Reporter's Notebook: Stretching the mind and body at the Strand

Yoga is a tough, serious gig.

When I think about yoga, I think about thin figures with steel-strong arms and legs. I think of people who can stand on their arms, which seems so unnatural.

But yoga is not just for those "perfect" bodies. It's for me too.

I practiced yoga Friday at the Strand, which is free for everyone all summer, except the week of the US Open of Surfing starting July 30. It wasn't my first time, but it was the first time I practiced with my sister, Marwa Shadia, in the middle of a street, looking up to the bright sky and forward to the ocean.

It was a new and exciting experience, but also uncomfortable at times, especially when one of our photographers showed up. I regretted making the request for photos, and I plan on using my diplomatic skills to lobby my editors and the copy desk to keep any close-ups out of the paper.

I've been doing yoga off and on for years. I started in college, and can with absolute conviction tell you that I felt at my best when I was practicing on a regular basis.

Not only does yoga stretch out the knots in my upper back, but it also makes me stronger and much more relaxed. It challenges me in a good, healthy way. My mind is always going, so when it's time for yoga, I silence my phone and concentrate on reaching what seem like impossible positions.

There is one thing I've always struggled with and feel utterly uncomfortable writing about now: my weight. I don't look too overweight, and would say I'm confident enough to be able to diffuse appearing insecure about it. I know how to dress my body, which is important. And it's not about my body, I like my body. It's about the weight.

I have never faced an obstacle bigger than my weight. Even learning English as a teenager wasn't this difficult. Growing up, I always felt bigger and taller than everyone. I always gain some, then lose some, and the cycle continues.

At the beginning of this year, I put my foot down and promised myself to lose 40 pounds or three sizes during my 27th year. I want to do it the healthy way. I don't do the fat-free, sugar-free or diet foods, and I really enjoy foods that are rich with taste, and maybe that's the problem. I also refuse to take diet pills, although I did at one point. But I think with some discipline, losing weight doesn't have to be such a miserable experience.

So far, I have lost 10 to 15 pounds, and since it's the end of June already, I plan on losing about 15 to 20 more by the end of the year.

I started by working out on a regular basis, which is key to losing weight, and counting my calories. This works well for me. I've been doing indoor cycling and spending time on the StairMaster, which I really enjoy.

I also, of course, belly dance.

But a few weeks ago, after a whole year of not practicing yoga, I got back to it. I remembered that yoga really helped me. I don't know why I stopped. I haven't seen results on the scale yet, which I really hate, but I see it in the way my clothes fit.

Each time, I get more flexible, reaching higher, lower or sideways, depending on the position — and there are many weird ones.

It will be a long while before I can stand on my arms, and if I never do, so be it. But I have a feeling I might one day. For now, I like how I'm feeling and where I'm going.

Yoga at the Strand is offered in collaboration with 104.3 MYFM and CorePower Yoga, Fifth Street and PCH, at 10:30 a.m. Fridays.

Reporter MONA SHADIA can be reached at (714) 966-6420 or mona.shadia@latimes.com.

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