Words by Katherine Nguyen // Images by Scott Wells
The opportunity for change, whether in body or mind, is not always apparent. For me, this lesson begins with a classic story involving New Year’s Eve, a group of friends, and an unbelievable diet and workout plan. New Year’s resolutions have never been something I have emphasized in my life. Workout goals and their results have never stuck around for me. After being disillusioned with the many diets and workout plans I had already attempted, I was ready to let go and dive in without expectation (as if it would be that simple). My physical transformation would catalyze a deeper journey of self-discovery.
Why is it that workout plans with diets aren’t viewed as the beginning of lifestyle changes more often? Is it because they seem too harrowing in changing the present life we think we very much enjoy? Or are we so wrapped up in a short-term solution to a long-term goal that we can’t foresee? Jumping into 12 weeks was no easy feat. When I started this program, I set my goals for increasing my strength while developing lean muscles. Vague goals would keep my distance from disappointment. No alcohol, no sugar, minimal to no salt, limited carb sources, a gallon of water a day on top of eating 8 times a day - not to mention the workout plan, involving intensive cardio and weight-training. I thought, sure, with the cliché “determination and strength of will” anything is possible. The first day arrived and I immediately missed the cardio, which was meeting up at 5AM to do several laps around the hilly park right outside my row house. This incident was the story of my life for the next month. Working a full-time job, keeping up with social activities, fitting "me time" in, and working out before and after work at times undoubtedly gave me anxiety. This was the first of many feelings that would show up during this process.
Most people are focused on the physical change, but I’m more fascinated with the personal transformation that emerged from this experience. Research has found that it takes around 21 days to change your perspective on a habit and 66 days when you start forming new habits. Regardless, 84 days is quite the number to exceed, breaking the old and sculpting the new. I found myself breaking down barriers I was blinded to. The defiant part of me came out. The hardest epiphany was learning that I had to deal with my present self all the time. Doubt, worry, indifference, and anger arose from deep-rooted insecurities from a younger me I had suppressed. Naturally, these were uncomfortable feelings and so I started asking why. Why am I feeling this way when my body was becoming healthier than it’s ever been and I had more energy than ever before? This was when something clicked in me… I was becoming more awake!
Mental clarity was my wake up call. Because these questions were being asked, I was able to readily turn my perspective around and bring up the positives. My physical strides were benchmarks to my accomplishment. Becoming aware of my reactions to these thoughts helped me immensely in developing my mindfulness with what I was doing in the moment. It helped me to stay on track and push through whatever frustrations I ran into – like the last rep of a set or like the negative thoughts that tried to lay seeds of doubt in myself. No one knows you best as yourself or so you think. Digging deeper into that comes with practice as with strengthening your muscles and changing your physical body. I needed to learn that once I started accepting myself, good and bad, sore or more sore, was when I could find a moment of peace.
Once I realized that this was mostly mental, and the physical was a byproduct, the road to changing my habits for a better version of myself became easier to trek. This mentality to take everything one day at a time, down to one moment at a time, extended beyond the 12 weeks. Though I am grateful for this stepping stone, I wanted to pursue a way to sustainably support this new lifestyle I had discovered for myself. Now, I strive to fuel my body with organic and/or local farm fresh whole foods and keep my mind and body fit through Ashtanga Yoga, which has become one of my passions. Connecting my body and mind is something I now strive for every day.
So ends my program and that strict diet, but I received answers to questions I needed to be asking myself all along like - what are my priorities and where do I fall in there? How wonderful would it be to accept where you are in life and move forward with positivity? Even though the push to change yourself may start with a negative reason, that first action, however difficult, will blossom into a powerful force in your life and emanate to the world you live in. Break out of your comfort zone, experience the struggle, and explore the inner depths of you. Let your physical body reflect your personal transformation. I didn’t know how much was under the surface until I pushed myself beyond my limits and what I found on the other side was something beautiful, inside and out.
Katherine Nguyen is an Ashtanga practitioner from Pittsburgh, PA, who finds inspiration in all aspects of life while striving to support others in their search to creating a better version of themselves.