As my classes have grown and new relationships begin to blossom, I’ve been asked how I came to practice (and subsequently teach) yoga. While the reasons one should practice are varied, mine was pretty simple. I didn’t come to yoga to heal my heart or work out deeply seated issues I have with my father/mother/brother. I wasn’t looking to find the quiet space between my thoughts, deal with major trauma, heal from disordered eating, or cope with high levels of stress. (That isn’t judgment, by the way. I realize that some people DO come to this practice for a number of these reasons. And while I can’t necessarily relate to them, I do appreciate that they are real.)
To put it plainly, I wanted to be able to put my body into some bad ass poses. (Scorpion was top on the list.)
Perhaps that seems superficial. Honestly, it wasn’t so I could “show boat” or be a bendy braggadocio. And becoming a teacher never crossed my mind. I just knew there was something to the process. The journey. The asana adventure. I sure as hell didn’t know what that meant or would entail, but it continued to intrigue me. Keep in mind that this was back in 1999/2000. While yoga was growing, it wasn’t as mainstream then as it is now. (Can you imagine a time with no Facebook, YouTube, Instagram or abundant yoga pose selfies?) So, when a co-worker told me she went to the studio that I passed regularly and had developed a strong curiosity about, we made a date to go together.
My first class was (in my mind) a bit of a disaster. I felt completely out-of-my-body. Where the hell did my balance go? Why don’t I get this breath-movement thing? But once I stopped trying to be good at it (Okay, so I am a Recovering Type A), *tada!* I started getting better at it! My practice became one of dedication and devotion to Ashtanga, typically going to four classes a week but often more. As it happens with schedules and creatures of habit, many of the same practitioners came to the same classes. While each was wonderful in its own right, there was something special about our Tuesday night group. A dozen or so of us would roll out our mats on a regular basis, breathing and moving in unison until the entire room seemed to pulse in time with the tempo of our ujayii pranayama. Some of us still talk about those nights and how palpable the connections were. Summer sessions would wind down with the day as we slipped into a sunset savasana and, as the seasons changed, practice would begin at dusk and settle in as the glint of snow gathered in soft formation outside. I can clearly remember driving home with a friend after a Tuesday practice one winter’s night. We both left it all on the mat and were sitting in virtual silence in our seats when it began to snow. Big, fluffy, gorgeous flakes fell and were illuminated by my headlights. We both looked at each other with awe and enormous smiles. This was a sublime moment. And we were utterly and completely in it. That was when I knew yoga would be a part of my life forever.
Within my first year of practice, I decided to start running and signed up for a marathon. At this point, I was practicing several times a week and had the time to properly train for the 26.2 miles I’d be running in Kona. There were some touch-go-moments when I hit the double-digit miles, and I recall one of my teachers mentioning that running 10+ miles and doing two full-primary series practices within 24 hours might be a little much. It took some adjusting, but I was able to find a good rhythm between my practice days and my training schedule and crossed the finish line feeling pretty great! To this day, I attribute my lack of injury and swift recovery from running in the Kona heat to my regular yoga practice.
As life shifted, so did my practice. I traveled more for business. My yoga studio moved to a new location that wasn’t 12-minutes away. I started going to the gym more. Running twenty-some-odd miles on a Thursday instead of rolling out my mat. Eventually, my practice down-shifted to once or twice a week. When it did, I could feel the result in my body. I was strong as hell, but the fluidity, ease, and presence of mind were not the same. My body moved better when I practiced more regularly. I missed sharing those simple and profound post-practice moments. It was time to make a change. More dates with the mat. Period.
To be honest, those moments often vacillated between first-date awkwardness and an adversarial inner monologue. My body occasionally staged a coup–What? You really think supta kurmasana is still in there? Ha! Good luck with that…
I was in my head.
I realized that the goal-oriented, marathon-running, strength-training mind and body were taking over the space reserved solely for my mind/body. While it was discouraging at first as it felt almost like starting anew, I went back to the basics of simply connecting my breath and movement; suspending judgment and expectations of what that 60- or 90-minutes of mat time would bring. In time, the mind chatter dissipated. And like spinning the right combination on a lock, my body released and gave way to the practice again.
Over the years, through aging and injury and the life changes brought on by moving from bramacharya/student to grahasta/householder, my practice has certainly shape-shifted. And while I may have beaten myself up over it in the past, a conversation I had with David Swenson helped me to see that being humbled and feeling vulnerable were gifts. I had an opportunity to use this experience to “go inside,” learn and evolve. It would be several years before I made the transition to teaching, but I’m grateful for each of the little setbacks and small victories along the way. No matter what life brings, I still hold the practice and tradition with great reverence and respect all that it brings to my life. To practice is to give oneself a gift over and over again. It’s one that I happily accept, and willingly and most humbly share.