Yoga – no excuses please!
So often, I hear people express misgivings about starting a yoga practice, “I’m not flexible enough, I have xyz injuries that make it impossible, class is just too early.” We all have our way, and admittedly it is not for everyone. However, yoga is available to all. Beyond the numerous health benefits there is a deeper, more profound relationship to be had with it. My yoga journey was not instantaneous. It was messy and far from the notion that yoga instructors are simply born with the genetic makeup to put our legs over our heads and smile. Yoga makes me strong and yoga gives me courage. My yoga unifies my experience with the world around me. Yoga never fails to surprise me.
My yoga journey – the beginning
I discovered yoga when I was 28 years old. At that time I was pregnant with my daughter Madeline so I enrolled in a prenatal yoga class. Work was at a high-pressure job and I was constantly operating in anticipation of the next moment; moving, planning, and working just plain hard. My unofficial job title was “Firefighter” and a minute to myself was rare. I quickly began to cherish those Tuesday and Thursday afternoons that offered a space in time that was just for me. It was a time when I could connect to my body and become acquainted with the child growing inside. Each time I stepped onto my mat, I explored the techniques with curiosity and wonder. When I closed my eyes and found my breath, I learned how to check in and create lucrative pauses in an otherwise hectic day. But as life would have it, after the birth of Madeline yoga became another thing unchecked on my list. There never seemed to be enough time for it. I hadn’t fully integrated my practice into my day-to-day and still saw it as an add-on, something separate from the rest of life. Yoga was something that took place on my mat in the sanctuary of a welcoming studio. It was lovely when I got to it, but it was disconnected. Years passed and it remained in the rear view mirror. I tried to return to it from time to time and would enjoy brief phases of regular practice only to be knocked off track by one crisis or another. My body suffered, my sanity strained, and I was yet another working mom spinning out in over-scheduled disorder. I searched for sanity unaware that it was available to me all along.
My yoga journey – the lapse
When my daughter was diagnosed with terminal cancer my world shrunk to the size of a 20×20 hospital room. I found ways to meditate, and made wholehearted attempts to practice but I still couldn’t make it stick. It wasn’t my time. I was in crisis mode and had become too short-sighted to see how much yoga could have helped me through what was to come. My body became a reflection of the constant state of emergency I had grown accustomed to. Rapid-fire weight gain and loss, and a back that was molded to shape of the pediatric hospital bed I sat in for 18 hours a day. My shoulders hunched protectively as my heart broke and a sense of despair clouded my spirit. By the time Madeline died I was crushed physically, emotionally, and mentally. I withered away from an ample 145lbs to a mere 95lbs that hung loosely on my 5’6” frame. Fifty pounds gobbled up in the turmoil of grief and devastation. Hardly able to walk, blacking out almost immediately when I stood up. I was disappearing. When a concerned friend made arrangements for a membership at our local yoga studio, I started to see that perhaps I was worth saving.
My yoga journey – resurrection
This is when yoga and I found each other. Honestly, I was just happy at the prospect of having something to do to fill the void, gratefully attending classes on a regular basis. The distance from my car to the studio was daunting and I had to pause for breath midway before I could collapse on my mat, thrilled that I made it in the door. But I kept going because I sensed on a very deep level that it was something I needed. It was an undeniable pull. Somehow in the complete breakdown, I opened up to a greater understanding of what yoga could be. Tapas is a Sanskrit term that means finding and cultivating an inner fire, it means making an effort, it is arriving. I started gently; attending restorative and beginners classes and I began to arrive faithfully. Every day my yoga foundation began with making an effort, pushing past all of the good reasons not to practice and to arrive in whatever state I found myself in. The art of being still, accepting the present moment for exactly what it was allowed me to send the sorrowful thoughts of the past and anxiety ridden thoughts of the future away for that one sweet hour of class. I found sanctuary on my mat. It became my new home. It was a safe place where I could simply exist, anonymous and free.
My yoga journey – Kula
My journey was far from glamorous. I was the girl that looked like she had just rolled out of bed with dark circles under my eyes and a pair of out-of-date yoga pants in a sea of Lulu Lemons and perfect hair. Unable even to touch my toes, I didn’t have the strength to hold downward dog for more than one breath. But, I kept going because this was finally something that was just mine. No one was going to take it away from me. I would move through my wobbly practice on the verge of grief-ridden tears, and when we finally arrived in savasana I would weep silently in the stillness. It offered a moment that I desperately needed to look directly at myself and honor the little bits that were left. When I opened my eyes and made my way to seated sukhasana I would often find sweet nothings had been placed near my mat–a flower or a note–tokens of love and support from total strangers. I was hit with the understanding that yoga and the yoga community known as kula had something I had never seen before. It was all love. They didn’t care if I skipped half of the asanas, they had no opinion of my crooked pigeon or wobbly tree, they just saw a fellow human searching for her practice, finding comfort in her journey; just like them. It was the one place in the world where I didn’t feel pitied. I was allowed to just enter and be my own sad self. And it was perfect.
My yoga journey – The road to recovery
Over the course of a few months I explored more challenging classes. Vinyasa and ultimately Ashtanga were added to my restorative practice. I found that yoga moved me in a forward direction. It gave me a sense of hope, a reason to eat, and a reason to wake up in the morning. That is when I heard the most inspiring yoga quote that became my mantra. “No matter how challenging, arrive on your mat the same way you want to arrive in life. Move in a way you can be proud of, with grace, effort and steadiness.” My practice was the scaffolding I needed to start to piece together my life. “With practice, all is coming.”
My Yoga Journey – Reaching an understanding
And so I practiced. Soon, my pigeon straightened out and my tree grew strong and steady. But it wasn’t the physical success that spurred me on. It was the process of arriving. There will always be someone more accomplished, more bendy, stronger, or longer, but in yoga we keep our eyes on our own mat. Others’ progress is just that; it belongs to them and is incomparable to my journey. I was the only one moving through my specific experience, so how could I ever think that my practice would look like someone else’s? No one was assessing my progress nor egging me on to be better. I just kept showing up and tapping into my best, whatever that was on that particular day. The asanas were rewarding, but never replaced the sweet realization that yoga is forever. There is no end, no point in time when you finally arrive at the top of the heap. That isn’t what it’s about. It is not a sport of accomplishment.
My Yoga Journey – My sacred practice
My yoga was gritty, it was charged with an urge to survive. I watched my physical body respond as muscles woke up, bones grew lighter, joints stopped aching, and I could stand upright without fainting. It was a domino effect that corrected the downward spiral I was heading into. I needed nourishment to move, so I ate Needed to feel to understand, so I paused. And needed purpose to live, so I devoted myself. I discovered ahimsa, the practice of self-care and loving kindness. Beginning to understand that for yoga to occur, I needed a healthy foundation. For the first time in a long time I was willing to see that I was important, worthy of nurturing. By taking care of my physical self, my insides began to heal as well. My body and I started to make friends again and it developed into something beautiful. Yoga saved my life and my practice became sacred.
My yoga journey – my new yoga life
I faithfully continued my yoga practice during the tumultuous journey that landed me in Mexico. Childless, divorced, homeless, and jobless. I had stripped to my bare essentials and yoga helped me to be comfortable with that. I sought out studios wherever I landed and honored the singular commitment I had allowed myself. Practice. I quickly discovered that sometimes practice meant taking a solo paddle on the Sea of Cortez and belting out my daughters lullabies to an endless ocean, taking a sweaty walk in the hot dust of the Baja arroyos, or dancing with joy until the early hours of the morning. Yoga doesn’t only happen on the mat. It is a way of living a life. The word Yoga means “union”—my journey, my body, and my breath. It is the art of connecting all these things to wherever you find yourself. Finding ways to practice off the mat became equally important to the precious hours clocked on my mat. Finally, I wanted to live, to be strong, and to survive long enough to see what was next. My practice became a reflection of me. It was infinite, and connected me to the Universe that I was becoming aware of.
My yoga journey – a new home
I never imagined I would wind up teaching yoga in the beautiful Baja landscape. It wasn’t something I had sought out. The serendipitous events that led me to teach came unexpectedly. A random advertisement for teacher training in Todos Santos landed quietly in my inbox unnoticed for several days. At the time I had little direction and was existing in a blissful state of absolutely no responsibility. If anything, I was more interested in developing my own practice than I was actually getting up in front of a group to share the teachings of yoga. It was a future I had never imagined. I enrolled in a 27-day immersive training without too much deliberation. It was something to try, something to explore in my new skin. When I arrived at Yandara after several wild nights of celebrating my 35th birthday, I had somehow lost a shoe on the way and still only had that one pair of sadly worn yoga pants. I had to borrow everything I needed for training and arrived as the most rag-tag teacher in training imaginable. My saggy yoga-pants once again found themselves surrounded by colorful Lulu Lemons, expensive yoga gear, and 20-year-old bendy bodies. But it was me, it was honest, and although I was not entirely certain at the time, I was ready. My first days at yoga camp were mired in feelings of doubt, “Why did I set my self up for this? I’m not so into this kumbaya shit. Oh God, I’m the second oldest person here by ten years.” It wasn’t until the third week of training that things shifted. The training took me on an emotional overhaul that I didn’t see coming. After tears, and sweat, and struggle, hours of lecture, no sugar, caffeine, booze, or outside contact, something in me cracked wide open. I realized that I had all of this love to give, love that had once been dedicated to my daughter.
My yoga journey – love and peace
A childless mother is an ocean of love without an outlet. I understood that if I was going to find peace I needed to find a way to let that love out. With the exception of Madeline, I’d never been comfortable touching other people. I was an uncomfortable hugger; it most often left me feeling self-conscious and awkward with sweaty palms to boot. But then, we were asked to offer our partners an hour of restorative assists. These assists must be given selflessly, touching people to bring awareness to their own bodies and offer a soothing, unifying experience. It is a connection and an expression of the same selfless love I had been familiar with as a mother. Only after I offered it again in this new context was I able to understand what had been missing in my life. I wept afterwards in an avalanche of emotion that I didn’t even know was living inside of me. Of course! I needed to love; it was something that had been dormant and untended. Like mothering, sharing yoga was a job that allowed me to show instead of tell, to offer rather than instruct, to observe with loving kindness, and to give of myself without expectation. Suddenly the idea of teaching made sense. It was so clear and so unexpected. I completed my training with an unwavering sense that this is what I wanted to do. This unpredicted future was my path.
My yoga journey – my yoga is synonymous with my life
When I move through asanas, trying new things and tending to old favorites I am not just a yoga teacher reaching for impressive physical feats. I am a woman finding her place in the world, a mother grieving her daughter, an artist following her muse, a human being living her best life. It is my heart cracked open wide enough to love without limitation. I arrived here by honoring my foundation, learning to love myself in order to love others. By knowing that my yoga is entirely my own and is never complete. It will never be finished because tucked around every corner is something new to explore and share—something that takes me completely by surprise. And this too, is perfect.