Finding Yoga

18 Jul

mermaid

My first experience with yoga was a one-credit course I took during my freshman year of college. Like many first-year students, I really struggled with the challenge of balancing rigorous courses and living independently for the first time. I’d only heard of yoga in a peripheral sense, and imagined that the classes would be full of lithe, flexible bodies that could easily fold into beautiful shapes, and sit comfortably on the floor for seated meditation.

Stressed out and battling obesity, I was certain that my clumsy, unfocused, anxious self would stick out like a sore thumb. I’d felt that way about every athletic activity I’d ever done: I always needed that costume just a little bit bigger than the other girls in dance class, and had stood red-faced in front of a high school swimming coach who frowned at the size I ordered for the team suit: “I told you to size down for racing suits. These need to be like a second skin.”

“That is one size down,” I’d responded, simultaneously thinking, and it’s also already digging into my shoulders and squeezing my ribs like a vice.

But yoga, I was told, wasn’t about the poses. It was about meditation, and I frankly thought that a forced hour of calm in my week was probably a very good thing. So I signed up. The Svaroopa-style class focused on deep, supported postures to facilitate release in the spinal muscles. Props were used liberally, and while I was embarrassed that I needed twice as many bolsters as the other students to support my knees when we sat in cross-legged, when I was all set up and able to find my breath, it was something special. I didn’t understand much of the reasoning behind it, but I liked how I felt after class.

The following summer, I made the decision to have gastric bypass surgery, and experienced a significant weight loss. But the real challenges appeared several years later. Once faced with maintaining a healthy weight, I had difficulty finding ease or balance. In search of cheap exercise, I fell into running and found it sort of okay. It was something I could easily get out of the way before work, and there were always fun little races like the Color Run or Warrior Dash to offer a goal. But old disordered habits reared their heads. One month I’d be running miles, exercising to extremes, and counting every gram of sugar going into my mouth, and the next I’d be binge-eating (and consequently getting sick), skipping the morning runs, and deciding that I didn’t have the energy to care about weight. As a result I developed some nutritional deficiencies, and often found myself running through injuries in order to “make up” for what I considered to be poor dietary choices.

When running finally became more like a chore and often caused lingering joint pain, I wondered if there was really any form of fitness out there that suited me. Had the years of obesity wrecked my joints and connective tissue so much? Throughout life, everything I’d turned to for exercise had eventually left me feeling bored, or turned off by the competitive aspect. But I remembered how good my back and shoulders felt after those simple college yoga classes, and wondered if yoga might provide joint relief, some exercise, and relaxation. Still, the thought of attending a class was intimidating, so I bought a few yoga flow mp3 albums and practiced at home in my little office for a few months. It felt amazing, and slowly small changes started happening. I stood up straighter, and felt more able to cope with stress. But in truth, I knew something was still missing. At a point, my practice stagnated, so I swallowed my anxiety about not fitting in, and went to a real yoga class at a studio on Old Town Alexandria.

And that time it clicked. From the first “om,” I was hooked. Suddenly, I was scouring studio schedules for classes near my office on Capitol Hill. I told my boss I’d work late on Wednesdays in order to take a longer lunch break and attend a midday class near the office. There were so many styles and types of yoga to explore, but I fell in love with Vinyasa Flow, Bikram yoga, and Hot Hatha classes. A tiny voice in the back of my head remained skeptical, reminding me constantly that this “exercise” wouldn’t be different.  Then one day during class I was struggling, attempting a posture I wasn’t yet ready for, and an instructor said, “It’s okay to be where you are today. Take your ego out of the equation and honor your own practice.”

To be given permission to not push everything so hard, to not always having to be better or accomplish more…that was different. To have permission to simply be present with breath and an intention felt so peaceful. The deeper I dove into the practice and philosophy, the more there was to learn. I felt able to let go of some of the compulsive habits that didn’t serve me. Yoga became a mindfulness practice that fed me spiritually, brought better focus, and allowed me to challenge my physical body in a compassionate way. To realize that there would always be more to learn and explore was a beautiful gift that brought a sense of calm. “You can always try a little bit more tomorrow,” one of my current teachers often says.

Yoga felt like home.

I decided to take my practice deeper, and completed a 200-hour interdisciplinary yoga teacher training at Mind the Mat in Alexandria, VA. The curriculum included a study of yoga history and philosophy, yogic lifestyle and ethics, anatomy and physiology, teaching and practice of asanas, meditations, pranayamas, chants, and mantras, yoga business, and a basic understanding of therapeutic yoga and prenatal yoga principles.

My practice and teachings are strongly rooted in a respect and love for the aspects of yoga practice on a physical, emotional, and spiritual level. As a teacher, I strive to create yoga experiences that allow students to discover sattva, or balance both on the mat and in their daily lives. I teach workshops and classes in the Washington, DC metro area, and delight in sharing the mindfulness practices that have brought positive focus, peace, and a deeper connection with others into my own life.

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