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How Yoga Helped a Type-A Survive When Things Fell Apart
It took her 10 years to answer yoga’s “call.” But when Sandi McCann finally committed to a practice, she never looked back. “Yoga has transformed my life,” she says.
A self-described Type A people pleaser who’s a marketing executive and mom, McCann (pictured above striking a pose near her home in Golden, Colo.) was trying to juggle "everything, to make everyone happy," she says — at her own expense. And she was on her last leg.
During a typical 11th-hour attempt to do it all, McCann raced into a grocery store, sweating in 90-degree heat, to buy some balloons for her husband’s birthday. When one popped, it nearly sent her over the edge. That was a defining moment, recalls McCann. “I said to myself, ‘I’m so tired of living my life without me noticing.’” And that statement “did something to the universe,” she says.
“I thought yoga was just stretching”
McCann’s dabbling in yoga had proved too boring, she recalls. “I thought it was just stretching and was too slow. I thought it wouldn’t give me enough and wouldn’t keep me fit." But yoga remained on her to-do list for another decade.
Then on a business trip, she came across a free yoga class at The Chopra Center for Wellbeing in Carlsbad, Calif. "It was Deepak Chopra! I had to go! ... And that day, there was a seismic shift,” she says. She went home and sought out a yoga studio near her home.
“It was the hardest physical thing I had ever done,” says McCann, who was reeling from arthritis and hip pain from having been an avid runner for much of her life. “In savasana [the yoga relation pose], I found home. And from then on I knew I was hooked.”
McCann’s daily run had offered immediate relief from the anxiety that had always played a role in her life. But yoga asked much more of her; and she liked the challenge — both physical and mental. “In running you can run through pain,” she says. “With postures, you need to ‘hang.’”
“I’m ready for the truth”
Yoga also satisfied a spiritual connection that McCann, raised Catholic, was longing for. One day during a deep relaxation period at the end of a session, she said to herself, “I’m ready for the truth — with a capital T. I’m 44 and I’m done. I’m finally ready for the truth.”
Before, she says, “it was easier to pile everything on than to stop and let it move through me.” Yoga made her slow down.
Involved in a controlling marriage, McCann began “sneaking” her yoga sessions. “Yoga was mine. I was so committed. It was the glue.”
The glue proved invaluable when six months into her practice, McCann discovered her husband was cheating. Then a month into a separation, her then-husband suffered permanent brain damage in a near-fatal motorcycle accident.
“Just being able to cry on my yoga mat and allow the pain to move through me” she says, “ … it was the first time I didn’t have to cover it up.”
Extreme body-image makeover
Beyond the emotional support the practice provided during an especially trying time, yoga transformed McCann’s body image. “It has given me the opportunity to connect with my body. Now I know it’s really a vessel for my soul,” she says. “It has allowed me to be friends with my body and to know the stuck places.
“When I stopped running, I felt old. Now I know I can play until I’m 100,” McCann says of her yoga practice. She calls it her moving meditation. “Yoga has taught me about awareness, noticing, connecting, experiencing.”
Finding the “authentic Sandi,” as McCann now refers to herself, has changed everything. “When I am connected to my essence, I am able to be more available to others,” she says. “I can be a more direct expression of me — and offer hope and inspiration to others.”
McCann’s advice for changing your life through yoga
We asked McCann, now a certified yoga instructor herself, for some inspirational tips for finding your inner yogi. Here are a few:
- Stop over-thinking it. “I used every excuse for not practicing,” she says. But there are so many resources available today for beginning a yoga practice — studios popping up everywhere, instructional videos, props, day care for kids, evening classes, online classes, etc. Just do it.
- Make friends with your body. Roll out your yoga mat, introduce yourself to your body, have compassion and humor — and begin that lifelong friendship. “Postures help us access our entire body and to call upon its strengths and weaknesses — all the nooks and crannies we keep adding stress to.”
- Learn from live instruction. “While I’m a huge advocate of establishing a home practice and there are some amazing videos and instruction for yoga practice, I believe that energy shared with others in a community environment is so enriching.” Attend class in a studio. It will keep you motivated in expanding and staying dedicated, she says.
McCann on the pose she's holding in the photo above: Natarajasana (Cosmic Dancer): "This beautiful posture, depicting Shiva’s dance, symbolizes the universes’ energy in it’s 'five actions' (creation, maintenance, and destruction or re-absorption of the world; concealment of authentic being; and grace). I lived the first 44 years of my life being busy, doing, doing doing .... I had to let go of the 'old Sandi' and prepare for the new Sandi, my authentic self. The yoga teacher training program I completed in spring 2009 sort of birthed what had been incubating over the last 3 years. I spent those 3 months literally shedding that last of what was no longer true for me, what no longer served me — and declared what I had been nurturing as 'the essence of Sandi.' Natarajansana reminds me of my process and the ability to step into grace — to stay on the path."