Fourteen years ago, I went to physical therapy for a non-threatening but persistent stomach condition that had painfully nagged at me since I was a teenager. The therapist, basically, taught me yoga…how to breathe, link breath and movement with cat/cow, some stabilizing abdomen work. It was a pretty immediate reaction of feeling more present and relaxed, and more connected to my core, (an area I’d avoided in fear for many years). She said I needed yoga in my life.
So I looked at a nearby yoga studio’s schedule and picked “power yoga,” because I didn’t want to sit still and chant. I was lost, sweating, holding my breath, and self-conscious. Fortunately, there was a teacher trainee who was assisting the class. He stayed near me, gently informing me about the poses and breath, and then went over the schedule for me. New yogis–beginner flow, vinyasa 1, slow flow, gentle….take those classes!
I stuck with it and within a few months I started to begin to understand the language of yoga. My stomach felt relief, and the “episodes” lessened. I felt myself learning how to be awake in the present moment on the mat. Breath, where my foot goes, shoulders aligned over wrist, tuck tailbone slightly, knee over ankle, etc. My mind began to quiet as I realized that most of what my monkey mind was thinking was either about the past or the future, both fear inducing. As my core became stronger, so did my confidence and my will. By year two, inversions, arm balances, a lot of the party tricks were tried and conquered. By year seven, I even went deeper and did a 200 teacher training and taught a little.
And yet I was still on my mat, studying my physical practice, and reading about the philosophy of yoga like a college subject that was going to be tested.
Only through confronting painfully needed life choices and injury did I finally begin to do yoga. Only when I acted on my present condition was I able to get beyond the physical poses. Suddenly the other limbs of yoga (asana is only one of eight limbs) opened up to me. Headstand was a path inside, but headstand alone won’t bring transformation, freedom, and truth. And you don’t need a headstand to find the bliss. Let me say it again, as we are bombarded by beautiful and artistic photos of incredible yoga teachers in their incredible poses…you don’t need to do that to be invited to your own enlightenment. Samadhi can happen in sparks throughout your day and off the mat.
The benefits of asana practice are astounding and the research is abundant. But when I overdid my SI joint and had to modify with blocks and realized how heart opening blocks can be…that’s the yoga. As years went by and my body changed, I let go of many of the party tricks and realized the incredible depth of refinement Warrior 1 asks of us…that’s the yoga. Deciding to become a vegetarian, deciding to use my voice as an action of my will, deciding to write “Inside the River,” is all about the yoga.
I guess this blog is about gratitude for the practice that is new for me each day, that is still unfolding, that is “unsheathing” the mist. And if someone reads this, who is intimidated by the onslaught of yoga olympics, please know that as long as you have breath, you have yoga. Find a class that speaks to you in some way and try it…try it at least twice a week for 3 months. If a teacher asks something of you that doesn’t feel good for your body, listen to your body. If a teacher comes and assists you and it hurts, tell them. If a class didn’t work for you, then pick another class.
Then take notice of the benefits…there is no separation between the practice on the mat and off of the mat, just as there’s no separation between our mind and body and spirit. We’ve called them different words and created that separation. And to every reader, and beyond, I wish you peace…