Several years ago, James Willis took his first yoga class on the day after Thanksgiving with results for which he wasn’t so thankful. “It was so overwhelming to me that I was unable to get through the entire class,” he said.
He tried again the next year—on the day after Thanksgiving again—with similar results.
But James knew he needed to make a change. Deconditioning, past injuries and poor lifestyle choices were taking their toll.
“Over the years, I’ve had several lower back operations; experienced severe limitations from chronic pain elements (rheumatoid and osteoarthritis), and had bilateral knee problems from years of running and playing league tennis,” he said.
“I also ruptured my left Achilles tendon in 2005. These factors, unfortunately, contributed to a low phase in my life that I believed would be permanent.”
Rather than giving up, James changed his mindset. But he admits it was a struggle between his inner critic and his determination, especially during the first two to three months of the regular practice he began in June 2016.
And then there was the heat. “The heat only intensified my struggle until I ultimately learned how to soothe the intensity of my emotional responses,” he said.
Ultimately, his determination was stronger than self-criticism. “I had reached a point where I realized I needed to adopt a different mindset and consider a healthier approach (with reasonable goals) to living,” he said. “I decided to take control of my circumstances and improve my quality of life.”
Since then, James has maintained his practice, incorporating hot 26/2, hot hatha, yin and restorative yoga styles into his routine.
“Because of the benefits of yoga, I started modifying my diet and levels of nutrition to accommodate my regular yoga schedule which directly led to a reduction in weight within the first year of 53-plus pounds,” he said.
James credits yoga for being “a life-changing experience” personally and professionally. His successes led him to incorporate yoga into his practice as a mental health professional with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
“I am working to gain credentials for teaching a broad spectrum of trauma-sensitive yoga techniques to some of our military service members and veterans,” he said.
Multiple research has shown the positive impact yoga and meditation can have on the health and healing of military communities, particularly in the treatment of PTSD. In some military programs, yoga has become mandatory.
At Sterling, James said he has found a “wonderful sense of community and support” with a schedule that offers options to help maintain a consistent practice and a location that’s convenient to his office and home.
But it’s the sense of health and fulfillment on the physical, psychological and spiritual levels that keeps him coming back.
He’s grateful for overcoming his initial struggles, so he has some words of advice for new students or anyone considering trying yoga for the first time.
“If you care enough about yourself, commit to practicing three months of consistent yoga,” he said. “The benefits of yoga will eventually consume your life, for the better.”
While James cautions that it won’t be easy initially, the struggles, the challenges hold valuable lessons.
“Expect a war between your mind and body as you establish a new direction in your life course,” he said. “Embrace the benefits of each class; refrain from making any judgments, comparisons, or setting any expectations for yourself; and honor where you are at each moment.”
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