In the winter of 2008/2009 I entered my first yoga class at the local gym I belonged to. I entered the room with great trepidation…was I too old to be starting yoga (26 y/o)? Was I really late to the game…because yoga had already been trending for a long time? Was I too inflexible (I couldn’t touch my toes)? Was I gonna suck basically?
That first yoga class and many that followed I would practice in front of a full-wall mirror. I could see myself and compare myself to others. It suited me because I could follow what the poses were supposed to look like. In time however I tried to place my mat right up front next to the mirror so I could only see myself and focus on my own form. It was starting…the journey within. In time, I outgrew the gym yoga setting and started wanting a more intimate setting (one that didn’t have the thumps of a people dropping weights outside the door) and would buy any Groupon offered for local yoga studios. None of these yoga studios had mirrors and that suited me at this point, because there was something else starting to form…a connection to how the poses felt in my body. My instructors would embed yoga philosophy and in place of the judgement that was previously on that mat with me, I started building a mind/body connection that I had never felt so keenly in tune with.
Strength and Flexibility
And then the spiritual connection began to build. Or maybe it had been there the whole time, waiting dormantly behind my learning the physical aspects of the practice and then learning to listen to my body. I learned that I was more connected to yoga practices that were strength based and were challenging. Connect that to my life—I am a strong individual, I love challenges, and I love to move from one thing to the next. Now, this sounds like bragging but it isn’t—it is just a preference and an observation about how I live my life. The opposite would be being flexible, living comfortably in the present and loving a life of ease and flow.
My practice of yoga introduced me to yoga’s sister science, Ayurveda, the study of balance. When one element is over activated, it can create dis-ease. The study of Ayurveda asks you to supplement an over activated element with it’s opposite in order to create balance. For example, my strong connection to strength and challenges was over activated, which can create rigidity, anger, and tightness. Yoga so effortlessly balances strength and flexibility through its postures, but it is up to the practitioner to approach the practice in this mindful way…and to approach their life in this way.
How do I approach a difficult pose that I’m not able to do—do I get sad and judge myself? Do I get angry and say f*** this practice? Or do I ease into the reality and just let it be? Because, you see, this response is just a mirror of what you are doing in all the other places in your life. For me, the responses to these challenged on my mat change based on how I’m doing emotionally and psychologically. Yoga can literally be a playing field allowing you to approach challenges, create boundaries, and respond kindly in your practice so you can learn your tendencies and mindfully respond to challenges, boundaries, and opportunities in your life.
There was an unusual point in my life when my yoga practice went from a curious, mindful class I would take 2 days a week to learn and practice my mind/body connection into a daily practice of self-care that filled my soul. That moment for me was breaking my leg. Now I know it sounds surprising that a physical collapse would bring me closer to what many think is a physical practice, but let me explain.
If you’ve never been forced to physically stop (like a broken limb), you may not get this…but there is a deep quietness that happens. I was on crutches for 13.5 weeks and took a 8 week short term disability from work. Everything that was busy in my life stopped—it was all self-created. A depression creeped over me—why had this happened? When was I going to be able to stand on my own two feet again? My life literally gave me this gift of stopping—taking away my strength in its physical form—and forcing me to find another approach. During these months I barely watched TV—I was looking for meaning to it all. I was looking to yoga….the spiritual side. While I was bed-bound I religiously read the book, Jivamukti Yoga, and learned about eastern philosophies of detachment, service, and opening my heart in a way that truly resonated in my soul and helped me through the darker times of recovery.
That moment of recovery was about 5 years ago, and I’ve been dedicated to my yoga practice ever since. Today, yoga is a practice of self-care, discovery, creation, detachment, love, and service. To me, yoga was the start of my spiritual journey—the connection between myself and others. The connection between my mind and my body. And then my connection to spirit and soul.