Lots of people say they experienced one big moment that motivated them to change their life. Not me — I had two.
The first was the day I flew home to New York City to be with my mom after she had been hospitalized for heart disease. At the same time, my dad was receiving cancer treatment and recovering from a backward fall down a flight of stairs. I had two parents in two hospitals, and I was unable to walk the single city block from the parking garage to my mom’s hospital bed without stopping in pain.
At age 35, I was nearing 360 pounds. My back hurt constantly, and my left knee would buckle unexpectedly. Dishes piled up in the sink because I didn’t have the stamina to stand long enough to wash them. Whenever I walked into a room, the first thing I looked for was a place to sit.
In short, I wasn’t showing up for my own life. I was creating a smaller life to match my physical limitations.
It took me another year to admit that I was watching life pass me by. I also found myself dating the same guy again and again, creating the same shallow connections when what I really wanted was deep love. This was my second big moment: realizing that I was the common thread in every relationship.
My body was falling apart. My professional life was uninspired. And my personal life sucked. It was time. So I made one promise to myself: to be healthier and happier when I turned 40 than I’d been when I turned 30. So I started the work of unpacking my own baggage, looking fear in the eye, and creating my own joy.
Staring at My Mountain of Stuff
How do you change when everything hurts — physically and emotionally — and you can’t even imagine feeling different? I started with baby steps.
I called it “soul archaeology.” I’d start with a problem in my life that made sense, and then dig deeper, brushing away the things that were holding me back, until more of my issues were exposed. I focused on two things: getting my body out of pain and breaking the patterns in my personal life.
To heal my body, I started with exercise. I knew I needed guidance, so I hired a personal trainer. He directed me toward strength training for mobility and functional movement, using my body weight to my advantage.
Over 18 months, I built muscle mass and started feeling stronger and more empowered.
Next, I unearthed my relationship with food. I started by counting macronutrients to understand what I was eating. I also practiced mindfulness to learn why I was eating it.
My whole life, I’d spun on the diet-culture hamster wheel, believing in a mentality of deprivation and the notion that weight loss could “fix” me. It wasn’t until I realized my physical weight was a reflection of the emotional baggage I was carrying that I was actually able to do something different.
I also deleted the dating apps from my phone. I realized that my love life was becoming a coping mechanism; I was using casual intimacy to stifle my anxiety and anger.
Removing those unfulfilling relationships from my life forced me to sit through discomfort, and it allowed me to see opportunities for growth. My motto became “embrace the stuck,” and I did so at every chance I could.
That’s when I discovered Kundalini yoga. I signed up for an intensive class that included meditation and breath work. Twenty minutes into that first class, the tears were pouring down my face. I felt both expansive and truly humbled.
Yoga means “yoking” your body and soul, and Kundalini turned out to be exactly what I needed to deal with my emotional and physical discomfort. It wasn’t long before I enrolled in teacher training.
Making It Count
I prefer to think of myself as a teacher and a thought leader, but telling my story online has also made me a social-media influencer. I publicly share all the joy, the pain, the dance breaks, and everything in between to connect with those other Sarahs out there who feel scared, stuck, and ready for change.
Wellness is not a number on a scale. It’s about a whole life: my relationship with food, my body, my sex life, my self-perceived value as a woman, my spirituality, and my work all rolled together.
The only way to create long-term change is from a place of massive self-love. Motivation fails us all. The unshakable belief that we are worthy of a life that serves us is the only way to keep going when things get really hard. What matters is that we learn to lean into the pain and rebuild ourselves from the inside out.
In 2016 I received an email about a wellness event I’d signed up for, asking what size T-shirt I wanted: small, medium, or large. I knew then that I’d be the only big girl there, so I showed up in cowboy boots and a sequined skirt, and I wore that outfit like armor.
I’ll never forget what it felt like to be the only woman of size in the room. I vowed that one day I’d create my own event, where all bodies would feel safe, welcome, and celebrated.
Today, at 40, I am living my purpose-driven life. I teach Kundalini yoga and I run size-inclusive wellness events for groups of 10 to 150 people. My biggest passion is making wellness accessible so others can find hope and create action, because wellness belongs to everybody.
I joyfully share my journey with radical honesty. I will never be a “finished” product. I am a beautiful, powerful, and delightfully flawed human being who has made the commitment to self-improvement. And I share it all so that others may “embrace their stuck” and do the same.
I remember what it was like to be Sarah consumed by fear and loneliness. And if I can extend a hand to someone like me, I’ll know I’ve done my job.
Sarah Sapora’s Top 3 Success Strategies
- Be unabashedly joyful. Sarah’s known for singing in her car with the windows open. “Let joy in your life rub off on anyone who’ll listen,” she says. “The more you shine your light, the more space you create for others.”
- Believe change is possible. Sarah was used to feeling uncomfortable in her body, but she took a leap of faith. “When I weighed 360 pounds, I couldn’t have predicted that someday I would hike and scuba-dive,” she says.
- Eat what you like. Don’t be afraid of food, she advises. “You are in charge of the cake; the cake is not in charge of you,” she explains. “Just understand why you want to eat it.”
This originally appeared as “Saying Yes” in the June 2019 print issue of Experience Life.