I started practicing yoga about 11 years ago. My roommate was on a quest to lose wait in a natural and healthy way – by monitoring what she ate and making a habit of exercise. She asked if I’d be willing to get up early and do yoga with her. Of course I was! All I knew of yoga at that time was what I had learned through years of dance classes – knew child’s pose, plank pose, tree pose, and perhaps down dog had slipped into popular culture by then. At the time, my own exercise aside from dance was running, largely because my then-boyfriend was a runner and according to him, running was the only type of exercise worth doing.
But yoga was different. It was mine, first of all, something I started to help a friend and something that helped me far more than I helped her. Yoga was a way to stretch that helped me in dance, but also helped with the meditation that I’d been dabbling in for many years. I was in middle school the first time I read about what I now understand to be a body scan meditation, and I was in high school the first time someone led me through one. Yoga pulled all of this together, but like with many things, I didn’t realize it at the time.
The beginning was not glamorous, and certainly not spiritual or mindful. Yoga was for stretching and it was a way of exercising that was not running. YouTube videos with titles like “Power Cardio Yoga” and “Yoga Cardio Workout” caught my eye, or “Yoga for Weight Loss,” and “Cardio Yoga for Fat Burning”. I felt guilty about not running, guilty for loving every moment of yoga while I was still trying to even like running.
Looking back, the choice of videos tells me not only about what my body craved (intense physical activity), but also about where my mind was willing to go. I avoided videos with too much downtime, or what I saw as unnecessary focus on breathing, stillness, and relaxing the mind.
As a gift from my parents about a year into my practice, I received a yoga mat and classes at a newly opened Bikram yoga studio. I had never felt stronger in my body than I did during the nine or ten months that I practiced there. I had never been more amazed with what my body could do. When I left that studio, I knew it was not likely I would go back. Bikram was never pleasant, as those who have tried it will know, but it was there that I let myself truly feel my body, and it was there that I first realized the meaning of energy in a room. I have never forgotten the first time I viscerally understood that there are forces in the universe that science cannot explain.
I remember the first time I allowed my body to just be there. I was in my first yin yoga class in Bali, already on a journey through my mind and heart that I still see as pivotal to the places life has taken me in the five years since. Yin did not allow me to ignore the mind through quick movement or to hide myself in flexibility. Yin opened my body and forced me to breathe. And I did so, first in an effort to reduce the intensity of physical sensation, and then because I was fascinated with how much my body could give me if I just gave it space.
I have come a long way in 11 years of practice. I have had many teachers, both through YouTube and in real life. I have tried many different styles, and I have learned where yoga comes from. The point of asana, the physical yoga postures, is to breathe. The breath itself is the practice. The body, if you let it, will move with the breath. The breath will move the body. This synchronicity aligns the mind and slows down our experience of the world.
There has been a great deal of yoga practice for me recently, a product of the amount of time I am spending at home since our return to online learning. But unlike this time a year ago, my mind is quieter, my body is more responsive, and my heart is finding it easier to smile at what I have in my life rather than crying out for what is lost.
And for this, I am deeply grateful.