Leta Stevens

LIFESTYLE

Life Lessons from Yoga: Go At Your Own Pace

One of my favorite things about yoga is that every lesson I have ever learned on my mat can easily be translated into life outside of yoga class.

The other week to begin class, our instructor, Mary, informed us that the sequences of asanas (postures) we would be doing would be slightly longer and a little more elaborate than normal. She made sure to stress that all of us should go through each sequence in our own time.

“Go at your own pace. Stop for water, if you need to. You can drop into child’s pose at any time, if you need to. We are here to practice as a community, not as competition. It does not matter if someone next to you is going faster or slower than you. Go at your own speed; do what feels right for your body. Feel each pose. Finish in your own time, we will all meet at the end of the flow together.”

 

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As I moved through my asanas, I made sure to really focus on myself, on my own pace, and making sure that I was going deep enough in my poses to really FEEL the pose before moving on. Some yogis were going much faster, some much slower; some were almost in rhythm with me. Some yogis would break every so often for water, some skipped through certain asanas altogether, some hit modified versions of the postures, and some yogis could hit certain poses better than others. While I could notice all of these things out of my peripheral vision, it did not affect my own flow. It did not affect my thoughts. I was focused on me, my flow, and my mat. I was focused on my pace and my asanas alone.

Breathe in, breathe out. Go into Warrior I, feel good here? Yes. Okay. Time to go into Warrior II. Ready for the next posture? Go ahead. Oh, this stretch feels good… Sit in this posture a little longer. Okay, now let’s move onto the next.

When you’re in yoga class, you may struggle with some postures – but that doesn’t mean you aren’t meant for yoga or that you aren’t good enough for yoga. You may be more skilled at certain yoga practices than others, and vice versa. That is the beauty of yoga; it doesn’t care for perfection… only intention and effort. Yoga is for everyone. Life is for everyone.

Go at your own pace.

I am 26 years old; there are things in my life that I have accomplished that others have not. And in turn, there are some milestones I have yet to hit because my focus has been on various other aspects of my life. There are times when I find myself in a hurry to get from Point A to Point B; there are also times I desire a slow pace and wish to take my time. In the last three and a half years since I have been in the “real world,” I have very much found myself and what my heart beats for. I have found passion and fire within my soul. I have realized what is really important to me and what I want out of my life. I know that I have yet to reach my full potential. I have recognized there is still so much room for self-improvement and growth. I have reclaimed my self-worth and I know that I don’t need to settle (PSA: no one needs to settle, you deserve nothing less than extraordinary in ALL aspects of your life).

If you want to take a “gap year” after college to travel and see the world, then by all means – do it! If you want to spend your 20s immersed in work and climbing up the corporate ladder to make sure that you can “coast” into your 30s, do that. If you want to get married and start a family as soon as possible, go for it. You choose the speed at which you chase after your dreams. You are in control. Don’t feel pressured to match anyone else’s speed or intensity in ANY area of life.

Every one of us will experience life and love (and yoga) at our own pace.

Stop for water, if you need to. You can drop into child’s pose at any time, if you need to.

Don’t be afraid to make a pit stop or take a detour on your life journey. Throughout your life, different things will end up taking priority. It may be love, school, a new career, entrepreneurship, a social life, or new hobbies. There are countless things that can come up, some unexpectedly, that will take precedence over things that were once really important to you. That’s okay. Allow yourself to have these phases of focus. Giving yourself the ability to readjust your priorities from time to time just ensures that you’re giving adequate time to develop yourself in multiple aspects of life: social, physical, occupational, etc.

There have been many times in my life that I have prioritized both people and things differently. I have accomplished so much, including (but not limited to): a college degree, a promising career, my own website, competing (three times and currently preparing for show number four), and a side business in the works. Each of these successes came in their own time and it was necessary to dedicate my attention to each separately. I have chosen a different path than others. I have spent my post-graduate life focusing strictly on self-development and growth. The last two years, in particular, have been dedicated to training and dieting for bodybuilding competitions. I don’t see this as a loss or as a waste of time (as I probably won’t be competing forever), just simply a stop (or a detour rather) on my journey in life. This has only strengthened me as a person. It has improved my will-power and discipline, solidified my values and my relationship with God, and raised my self-esteem making me very aware of my worth.

Where I have chosen to dedicate my time to bodybuilding, many others have chosen careers or love or travel instead. Whether they are full speed ahead, taking a pit stop, or on a detour (like me) it makes no matter. We create our own paths and as long as we love the one that we have chosen for ourselves, that is all that matters.

We are here to practice as a community, not as competition.

Life is not a competition. It is not a race. You may have chosen to focus on a career, multiple degrees, traveling the world, bodybuilding, starting a family, or maybe you aren’t sure what you are focusing on at all. We are all just trying to go through life and find our place in this world. Let’s just focus on supporting the people in our lives, no matter their path. We are here to empower and support others on their journeys. We are here for form friendships and relationships and community. We are not here to compete with each other.

 

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Each person has their own perception of life and success and happiness, there are no winners or losers. All that matters is your own happiness and your own success. We all have our own benchmarks for what “winning” or “losing” is – but, no one else can live our life for us. It’s just us, alone, so we shouldn’t compare others to our own benchmarks or expectations, nor should they compare us to theirs.

It does not matter if someone next to you is going faster or slower than you. Go at your own speed; do what feels right for your body.

As individuals, we simply reach different milestones at different times in our lives. Everyone is on a different chapter of life. Certain chapters may come earlier for some (a chapter of love, success, career changes, etc.) and later for others and that is perfectly fine. Faster or slower, makes no difference to me, as it does not affect the speed at which I am going through life. I am in control.

Feel each pose.

Be present. Live in the moment. Soak it all in. How do you feel right now? What sensations are moving through your body? How is your breathing? Are you currently present? Or are you just going through the motions? These are thoughts I constantly have as I’m doing yoga. How amazing would it be if I was this aware of myself, my feelings, and my surroundings at all times of the day?

Make it a priority to FEEL. Live with the intent to be ALIVE in each beautiful moment that you are given.

Finish in your own time, we will all meet at the end of the flow together.

Take it from, Mary, it doesn’t matter where you’re at in your flow, or your life journey, you can take a break for water or child’s pose, you can speed up, slow down, it doesn’t matter. We will all finish in our own time, and that’s more than okay. We are there to be a community. We are there for the camaraderie. We are not there to compete with one another. We are there to look inward; to focus on our body and our mat and find ourselves.

It was a one hour yoga class that was meant to deepen my yoga practice, but it brought so much more than that… it brought me the reassurance that my journey is mine alone and that I can move forward in life just as I would like. I am in control and I can change my path or my speed at my own will. I need not be in any rush if I do not so desire. I’m in competition with no one. I’m doing what feels right for me. I’ll get there when I get there, and until then… I’ll just continue to focus on being present in each moment and making the most out of the experience.

 

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This was a very eye-opening class for me, since you weren’t there to experience it with me… I hope this post helps you open your own eyes to your own path. I won’t lie, y’all, this post was very soul-satisfying for me to write, so… selfishly, I’d like to make this a series and enable myself to write more as these lessons come to fruition in my yoga practice. Keep an eye out for more Life Lessons from Yoga on the blog!

What life lessons have you learned in yoga? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.

Xo,

Leta

Why You Should Support Your Girlfriends’ Passions

“Support your girlfriends the same way you support celebrities you don’t know.” 

Many of us have idols. We follow their every move. We can’t wait for their “next-big-thing” – whether it’s a movie, a book, an album, a concert, a new release of clothing… we are counting down the minutes to swoop in and buy whatever it may be that our favorite celebrity is sharing with the world. We don’t actually know these people. We have never met them. We just watch their lives online or on tv and it feels like we know them. We want to be a part of their world and share in their journey, so we continue to follow along, to purchase, to worship, to idolize.

I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with the above… in fact, your girl spent close to $300 on a Justin Bieber concert ticket when he came to Chicago in April. I spent all of that money for a lower level seat super close to the stage and I went to the concert alone, because the obsession is that real. I have no shame. It was one of the best experiences of my life!

Okay, Leta, so if there is nothing wrong with supporting your favorite celeb #girlcrush or #MCM (#mancrushmonday) then what is the point in all of this? My point is that while it is absolutely okay to idolize and show support for celebrities and those who have big names in the industries that we follow, many of us neglect the pursuits, visions, and dreams of those around us.

There are so many cliché sayings that I could quote on this subject, but let’s focus on this one… “Empowered women, empower women.”

As a bikini competitor, I make a lot of sacrifices with regards to my social life. Some friends get it, some friends don’t. I wholeheartedly wish that all of my closest friends would understand that this is something that I love and I wish that they would support me and back me 100%, but that is not always the case. I want support, so I make sure to give it as much as I can.

I love sending words of encouragement to the people that send me messages asking for motivation. I love seeing some of my best friends find their passions and I support them in changing their minds and chasing after a new dream. I love going to competitions that I’m not competing in just so I can cheer on my friends that are up on stage. I love lending a hand when friends or family ask for help. I love to “share” Facebook and Instagram pages of my friends and family that are out there doing work and pursuing new ventures.

Empowering the women (and men) around you can do so much for your own self-esteem. You will find that as you continually lift others, you yourself will be lifted. It’s like respect, the more you give, the more you earn. The same goes with support; the more supportive you are to those around you, the more genuine support and encouragement you will receive.

When I first decided to compete, I couldn’t wait to tell my friend, Terressa, who had just started her own personal training business and fitness blog. She showered me with positive messages, the most precious note, bright pink sneaker laces, and gum (because I was dieting). Five months later, T (as her friends lovingly call her) even put together the sweetest show day present with two other incredibly supportive women when they came to the 2014 Badger State Championships to see me compete. After prejudging, we all went out to lunch together. The picture these women gave me still hangs in my room; the sour patch kids, however, didn’t last past midnight.

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Photo Credit: HMS Photography

T is a shining example of what it means to empower those around you. When she’s not taking her own pictures for her blog, she goes to a fellow female entrepreneur, Heather Schwartz of HMS Photography in Milwaukee, for her photoshoots. T was even asked me to join in on one of her photoshoots with Heather (the photo above is from this shoot). It was an amazing day with these girls and the energy was incredible. I left the shoot that day with a renewed energy and drive. It was so fun to help a friend out. This isn’t just business for these two; it’s mutually beneficial both personally and professionally. Terressa books a session with Heather, Heather is able to get some great shots (and glowing word-of-mouth references) to use for her portfolio, Terressa receives the same great shots to make her blog posts fun and personal, and they both have the ability to promote the other’s endeavors when showcasing the shots taken at the photoshoot.

“Support your girlfriends the same way you support celebrities you don’t know.” 

So the next time you need a fun photoshoot, a personal trainer, a graphic designer or artist, or maybe you just need help with your taxes… and you know someone who does these things, who is passionate about these things… reach out to them! Support them! By purchasing from them or using their services, you are funding their dreams and their passions. I don’t think there’s anything better than that.

If you ever wonder why your friends aren’t supporting you in your dreams, ask yourself if you’ve supported them in theirs!

Xo,

Leta

Want to know more about Terressa? Visit her at Achieving Fit or visit her Facebook page and Instagram. Her lifestyle blog is amazing and encompasses all things fun, fitness, and healthy. You can also learn more about her on-line training programs, here.

Need an amazing photographer? Heather shoots senior pictures, boudoir, engagement, and personalized shoots. She’s so sweet and gives amazing direction. She’s a must-use if you’re in the Milwaukee area! Visit her at HMS Photography to learn more and check out her Instagram and Facebook to see even more of her work!

Let Your Light Shine

“Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.”

Let that sink in. What does that say to you? This is a call to action. This statement is asking for you to recognize yourself in these moments and put an end to the madness that is you diminishing your light to make other’s feel greater in your presence.

This is an excerpt from a Marianne Williamson quote that was made famous (or at least made known to me) from the movie Coach Carter. The full quote below pulls at my heart strings as it opens up a new perspective for me, I’ll elaborate… but first, read this in its entirety:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” ― Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”

Think about this.

Really think.

How often do you see someone with their light shining and their passion beaming from their soul and you feel compelled to let your light shine as well? So why is it that we so often cut down our own accomplishments or milestones in comparison to others? We already know that comparison is the thief of joy, so why do we preface our own good news and announcements with degradation?

“I know it may not be much to some…”

“I still have a long way to go…”

“It may not be as impressive as most…”

“This isn’t my best…”

“I’m the last of my friends to get to this point…”

I can tell you right now that none of us do this in an attempt to save our own ego. In fact, it’s almost as if we do it to show others that we are aware that their accomplishments are biggest, better, and just all-around “more” than ours.

But… Who decides this?

We do.

This is a decision you make on your own. This is something only you can decide.

You can stand proudly behind all of your accomplishments, little milestones, and big dreams and you do not have to justify that to the world. You can simply be happy. You can simply be proud. It does not have to be conditional.

With social media, i.e. Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube being the prime hot spots to tell the world about what awesome goal was just met, I have seen more and more people contribute to this over-arching trend of “let’s downplay this so people realize I know it’s not that great”.

Excuse me? But your goal was met! Your milestone was reached. That is more than enough cause for celebration! People have allowed comparison to slip into their lives and strip them of the happiness and pridefulness that they are more than worthy of having. It needs to stop.

Don’t get it twisted though… I am guilty of this, too! And many of the “fitspo” accounts that I follow are also complicit in the “let-me-preface-this-with-some-derogatory-phrase-before-i-pat-myself-on-the-back” posts.

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I cannot tell you how many times during a competition prep I have posted a picture that I am proud of but have started the Instagram caption with, “I’m no where close to where I want to be yet” or “I’m not near as lean as most bikini competitors” (ahem, picture above is a perfect example) instead of just flat out posting the picture and saying “Hey, this is me and I’m happy with my current shape and I am happy with who I am as a person and that is enough for me to post this picture whether you like it or not.”

I think the fitness industry, especially the younger women who have amassed hundreds of thousands of followers, need to realize that they have a hand in this. I think they need to understand that there is a vast age range in their social media following. These women have young girls, who are already so torn and confused about body image (thanks to societal norms and the media) who look up to them. And yet, here they are posting progress pictures saying “I know I’m not lean anymore, but…” when in reality they are walking around with quad separation, obliques popping, and baby abs showing. If you are lean enough for abs and veins to be popping, you surely do not need to preface any post with any statement regarding your lack of leanness.

In my hopes that we, as an industry, can start to do better, I am pledging to stop “justifying” my posts with comments that may be condescending to my own progress or accomplishments.

As Marianne says, it does not serve the world for me to play small. It does not serve the greater good of this fitness industry for the women who have a voice to reduce their own accomplishments in comparison to other people’s journeys either, whether it be body progress, career progress, or anything else.

We are all complicit in this. We have all, at one time or another, minimized our own achievements because we see our path as less than or inferior to someone else’s. It is as if we are telling the world that we know we do not deserve that greatness or we do not have that greatness within us, or at least not to the degree that other people have greatness in them.

You have a responsibility… Starting today, promise me that you will no longer dim your own light. Be proud of who you are and how far you have come. Your journey is yours and yours alone. You have every right to celebrate the littlest win or the biggest feat. You are worthy of proudly displaying any and all accomplishments.

“As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Xo,

Leta