I'm always curious how people discovered yoga. What about it made them fall in love? How did it all go down? What is the story of their yoga journey?
A confession: I know so many people who started to seriously practice yoga in the wake of some unfortunate, traumatic event. My story isn't much different.
The beginning of my yoga journey
I started practicing yoga over fifteen years ago, but it was on and off, all or nothing, love and hate. I was really extreme- taking classes at every chance for a month here, and then not at all for a month there. The benefits were great, I knew, but ultimately, depending on the instructor, my mood, and how much money I had to spend on such luxuries, I could take it or leave it.
Then, there came a time when I needed it.
In my sophomore year of college, my world came crashing down. There were three unexpected deaths in our family in a short span of time. As a result, I found myself in a period of brief madness dominated by anxiety and anchored by depression. Desperately fighting to get my sanity back, I regularly, diligently began attending classes. At the persuasion of my psychotherapist, I tried meditation. The practice was like a drug. It was my escape- so wonderful in the moment and the few hours immediately after. But by morning, I'd wake with a start, fiending for it again, feeling the anxiety creeping back in and knowing I could squash it if I just got my yoga fix.
With consistent practice (and, ok, lots of therapy and meds), I got my life back under control. All my mom's new agey magazines that I rolled my eyes at had been right- yoga had been a vehicle for change, self-discovery, and self-improvement. I couldn't deny it, it was working. It was real.
My respect for the practice grew even more when I began my career as a school teacher. First year teachers know what I'm talking about - the endless preparation, the hours of grading, the meetings and conferences and, oh yeah, the actual teaching. Weaving yoga into the mix wasn't easy, but it was non-negotiable. I needed it to keep myself afloat.
And then, a month after getting married, it all came crashing down. With Lyme Disease, the physical practice was no longer an option as I was in far too much pain to get out of bed, never mind step on the mat. The meditation slipped away, as I was too overcome by fear, the unpredictability and seriousness of the disease inside of me. Forget an hour of yoga or even five minutes of meditation- I was too busy having a constant pity party for one.
Nine doctors and just about two years later, the strangest thing happened. I began to get better. It was one of those times where in the moment you think you're never going to get better, but if you step back you realize you've been trending in the right direction for months.
The yoga training
People who've been through some sort of major illness will agree with me - once you regain what you once lost, you set out to do everything you wanted to do but couldn't when you were sick. Like get out of bed. Make plans. Take chances. Fly to Thailand, and complete a yoga teacher training program.
The program was one of the most challenging things I've done. Mentally and physically it tested everything I had. But it was also the best thing I could've done for myself because it gave me the tools to dissect what I already had learned throughout my years of practice. It gave me insight into how and why yoga had helped me in the past. And it sparked in me a desire to explore and design creative sequences in ways I never knew possible.
A beginner yoga teacher
At first, teaching was terrifying. I painstakingly planned out entire classes, posture by posture. I practiced explaining how to get in and out of poses. I searched for hours on end until I came up with a theme or focus for my classes that I truly felt inspired by. I researched answers to potential questions from students. It was time consuming, but the effort was rewarding, and it never felt like work.
In my spare time, I did more yoga. I still couldn't do a head stand or a split, but my crow pose was coming along.
I took master classes and workshops with teachers who inspired me. And as I learned more, my class sequencing became more playful and interesting. I experimented with unique transitions and deviated from the strict Ashtanga I had trained in.
We move a lot, and I've been able to use that to my advantage and teach wherever I am. The opportunities I've come across have been so amazing - teaching workshops and pop up classes on the beach in Florida, or in Connecticut. Teaching in Germany and cultivating a little community of likeminded people. Being invited to teach at the International Dubai Yoga Festival, and my next stop- going to teach a pop up class in Greece. It is with immense gratitude (and partial disbelief) that I get to do what I love wherever I go. Each opportunity presents its own set of challenges, lessons and joys. My classes might offer someone a place to unwind and quiet the mind, and I am also benefitting from the presence and energy of the people who show up, and from the opportunity to teach.
The present challenge
This year, I began teaching more classes than ever before. It still doesn't feel like "work" - I absolutely love it. But I have gotten away from my own personal practice. It's been weeks since I got on the mat just for me.
It's partly my schedule, and partly the chilly winter days that leave me preferring to curl up with a good book rather than step on the mat. It's also partly due to the fact that when you practice yoga for so long there comes a time when you're no longer trending in giant spikes of improvement and growth so the honeymoon phase dims.
And that, I think, is the right time to step back and examine the journey as a whole. Look at how far you've come. At how much you've learned and grown. It's a time to set goals, to read, to spark that inner creativity once again. Or, maybe it's a time to take a different approach- a softer approach. Try stepping onto the mat vulnerably but fueled with an undercurrent of quiet determination, and resolve to reignite the passion for the practice that keeps us moving on our yoga journeys.
I'd love to know how you came to yoga- tell me in the comments section below.
PS- How to take your yoga practice to the next level.