• Julie

Journeying to Health

We'll be sharing our stories and our tips through blogs on our website, so make sure you keep checking in to see what's new. Our first blog follows Julie's health journey over the years. Enjoy!

Although I wouldn’t describe myself as particularly athletic, I do look back at my life over the years and consider myself active . . . . for the most part. As a child, I played sports, swam, cycled, hiked, even scuba dived, and in my adult years, picked up snowboarding, which very quickly became one of my loves. Yoga entered my life after a period of inactivity, the four years of university that I pretty much either sat at a desk or partied till dawn, living primarily on liquid diet or cheap Chinese and Italian take-out whenever I remembered to eat, or packaged meal-helpers when I had the motivation to cook. During those years, I was scrawny, couldn’t engage in anything remotely athletic and when my boyfriend at the time took me on a hike in the beautiful mountains of Colorado, I realized that I was 20 years old and probably at the lowest fitness level I’d ever been in my life thus far.

It was still another two years from that moment before I started to make a shift. The truth is that when you’re young and your bad habits take shape as a much skinnier version of yourself, it’s a lot harder to recognize what’s happening on the inside. When I went to my first yoga class, it wasn’t because I felt the need to do something. It was just plain curiosity. I was invited by a friend, and I went along. It was love at first practice. I was shaking, sweating, aching, but suddenly, I was also alive. Alive through all the sensations of my body and that’s where my life-long affair with yoga began. It made me stronger, more flexible, more aware, and gave me access to a wonderful community of people.

Fast forward to my first office job, which took inactivity to a whole new level. I’ll never forget how within that first month, I gained 10 pounds (4.5kg). Just like that. Off course I also attributed this to getting a little older, and some other hormonal changes that take place as you creep upwards into your 20s. I was still going to yoga almost every day, but it just wasn’t making a dent. This is where I remember making a conscious decision to cross-train, and I signed up for a gym membership. By this time, I had already picked up snowboarding as a weekend sport and noticed the cross-training making an impact in my strength, and thus maximizing my ability to enjoy my outdoor time. I made minor adjustments to my diet, nothing significant, just trying to be a little bit more mindful on a day to day basis. Looking back though, I was rather ignorant about food, as most of America is I guess, but in general, I was healthy and reasonably fit.

I lived that same routine of work, workout and weekend through my 20s and in 2011, just before I turned 31, my husband and I left our jobs in the U.S. and travelled around Asia for a year. That’s when I did my yoga teacher training, and apart from some pretty epic hikes, that year was mostly about yoga . . . and injury. I had taken a bad spill down a long flight of stairs early in our travels. That was the beginning of the chronic pain. Towards the end of the year of traveling, I pulled my back while carrying a heavy log as part of a service activity at an ashram in India. That left me in bed and on medication for close to a month. As luck would have it, that’s also the month we had planned to pack our bags and move to Luang Prabang, Laos, a place that we had visited while traveling and fell in love with, so as soon as I was mostly out of pain, that’s exactly what we did.

Life in Laos was dreamy. We lived simply. I started teaching yoga and worked full steam on creating a community yoga co-op that is known today as Luang Prabang Yoga, connecting Luang Prabang to talented teachers from around the world. I also started running regular yoga retreats three hours north of Luang Prabang in the remote fishing village of Nong Khiaw. As I poured myself into this project that consumed me in the most wonderful ways, I also lived silently with chronic pain that eventually threatened to put a stop to my teaching. This lasted for years, becoming the greatest source of my suffering, as well as a resource for my learning and my teaching. Access to healthcare and holistic healing is limited in Laos, but whenever I could, on trips outside the country, I would visit chiropractor, Rolfers, acupuncture therapists etc. Pain management is what I called it. The pain never really went away.

Teaching yoga at last year's Mindfulness Meditation and Yoga Retreat at Telunas Beach Resort

In 2015, my husband was offered a job in Myanmar. We decided that Laos and Myanmar were close enough so that I could continue my work in Laos, he could work in Myanmar, and we could visit frequently. And so began a routine of flying back and forth between Luang Prabang and Yangon, sadly increasing our (mine in particular) carbon footprint. In the first year alone, I made 24 trips on 37 airplanes. And the other cost that I didn’t see coming, was the cost to my health. I was living out of suitcases, renting rooms at friends’ houses or living in hotels when I wasn’t in Yangon. Routine went out the window. There was none. The only routine I can remember was the transfer in and out of Bangkok airport, so much so that at times I forgot even my direction of travel.

It seemed as if I was always celebrating departures and returns. Dinners with friends to bid me farewell for the next few weeks. Dinners again to welcome me back. And the same thing in Yangon with my husband. Celebratory evenings when I returned, and special dates before I left. My meals were irregular. Back again to the college days of eating when I remembered, except this time, add another 15 years of age onto it and higher calories from fancy meals out, and the result is quite different.

My metabolism slowed down significantly due to the irregularity of my meals. The weight started to creep on. I was fascinated by the weight gain at first. It is incredible how the body changes, molds into a different shape. I enjoyed the indulgence of taste and texture. We used to laugh about how I could eat pretty much as much as my husband. I’m 4’8”. He’s 6”. But its not just the physical, outward appearance that changes. The inside changes just as much. I noticed sluggishness, the need for more sleep than normal, and just generally being low on energy. Put simply, I was tired all the time. And in the span of just two years, I put on close to 17 pounds (7.6kg). That’s over 17 percent of my original body weight. On a 4’8” frame, that’s significant. I probably cared less about what I looked like than what I felt like in the end. I was too lethargic to even take a walk sometimes. Lift an 8kg dumbbell and you’ll know just how much extra weight I was carrying around. I took a lot of naps.

In April of 2017, I returned to Yangon to find out that a fully equipped gym had opened up in our apartment building. I usually travel less between spring and summer, so I knew I would be staying put for a couple of months at least. So I consulted my twin sister, Jasmine, who works in London as a personal trainer to come up with a program that I could follow. She uses macros counting for the food aspect of losing weight. We had to tweak it several times. My metabolism was so slow, it just wasn’t budging to begin with. The hardest part for me was eating consistently. I had to eat regularly, eat clean, and eat ALL of my calories. We were going for sustainable, long-term results. This wasn’t meant to be a “lose weight overnight” program. She taught me how to build a circuit and train at the highest intensity. It was hard. It was hard in particular because I had to discipline myself. After all, my trainer was in London. But I did it, and by August, 4 months later, I shaved off 15 pounds (6.8kg).

Started by adding HIIT 3 times a week into my routine

As soon as my regular retreat season started in Laos in October, I was back to my usual travel and living out of routine again. I tried to keep up my HIIT training, but my diet went back into irregularity. I put some of the weight back on. Not all of it, but some of it. Enough for myself, and everyone around me to notice. This took place during the period of October 2017 to April 2018. And in April 2018, I tried again. But this time, I tried

Staying motivated is an act of mindfulness

differently. I would go even slower, more patiently. Sometimes, loses on the scale would come only after a month, but they came. I didn’t force myself to stay home and count macros everyday. I was more flexible with it.

One thing that HIIT gave me was greater cardio fitness. So I signed up to run 7km in the Luang Prabang Half Marathon that year. I also gained enough strength to embark on a journey to learn how to lift heavier, and was lucky to find a weightlifting coach in Luang Prabang that has significantly improved my understanding of my body, its strengths and weaknesses. I’m in a lot less pain than I used to be. Part of it is dropping weight. Weight that my frame just doesn’t need to carry anymore. The other part is how targeted strength training brought greater balance to my body.

I’m in the best health that I’ve ever been in. I’m in bed at a reasonable hour each night, and up each morning ready to start the day. I no longer need naps during the day. I’m motivated to do things. I move my body everyday either in the form of lifting, running, HIIT, or yoga. The best part is that it never feels like I’m forcing myself to do it. My body and my mind simply want to. This is an introduction to my journey. It may sound very much like your own. Many of us go through it. Look out for my next blog, which details the diet and exercise routines that my sister I put together that helped me get healthier, leaner and stronger.

Here's a recent video where I lifted 46kg off the floor for the first time ever.

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