Sixteen years have slid by since I first stepped on to a yoga mat, finally ready to commit to the practice. I was living in Monterey, California at the time and dealing with both physical and emotional reasons for seeking mind-body healing. What I didn’t know, at the beginning of this journey, was yoga’s soft-spoken ability to seep into areas of my life that were fragmented by fear. Yoga gathered a circle of my splintered selves and invited them to meet one another; to join hands and unify. We all have sides of ourselves we reserve for private viewing only; the lonely, the frightened, the angry, the jealous, the immature, the happy, the giddy, the sad. Getting on my mat consistently gave me hope that I could dare to live to dream; that all circumstances are subject to change.
Yoga surprised me at every turn and still does. What began as a physical practice gradually morphed into a way of living in the world. I smile remembering my utter commitment to the postures; wanting to perfect them, studying the correct Sanskrit name for each. When one of my first teachers exclaimed that she could teach an entire class on breath work; I thought she was either exaggerating or a lunatic. Soon enough though, the breath revealed its illustrious power and I began to realize pranayama differentiates yoga from exercise. The slow steady awareness of my breath began to carry me inward and the layers of societal conditioning and hurtful experiences started to melt away. Often, an issue I imagined I’d already dealt with would arise during a practice as if a pose had unlocked a trapped door. Those stuffed feelings bubbled to the surface where I could then exhale them away. Their power over me dissolved…
…This happens over and over in yoga, emotions or thoughts flare up but the breath anchors the mind to the practice, where I can see more clearly. When a pond becomes smooth after the ripple of a stone or the wind; vivid reflections appear. Yoga began to quiet my mind to stop the current of thoughts that vied for my attention. In the eye of the storm lies a serene place of stillness a haven from the hectic whirl of life. Yoga was and is my haven. When we moved to Bend Oregon, and it took longer than usual to find a place to live, I practiced yoga anywhere I could; in a cluster of trees, the ocean, a motel room, a musty gym with a leaky ceiling. It occurred to me that yoga was within and like my breath could travel anywhere I went. My practice became as essential to my well-being as taking my insulin every day (I’ve been a type I diabetic since the age of five). It kept me grounded and gave me choice. and hope in my own inner strength.
Although I still love a strong asana practice, I have learned to listen (not all the time mind you) to my body’s needs. Sometimes settling into legs up the wall with a heart opener constitutes a practice. Other times, I may do a two-hour session of power vinyasa. I carry my mat around like a child’s cherished blanket. While traipsing through Europe my mat graced the floor of airports and the dirt of vineyards; yoga grounded me to that true self that could lend an ear to the mind, body, and soul listening for direction.
When I began to teach yoga, I realized that I was merely a conduit. It was through teaching and assisting others to be self-accepting that I learned to take my own advice. Who cares if you hold the wall while doing a balancing pose—it’s the intent, the breath that is the essence of yoga. Unlike gymnastics, yoga is not a competitive sport and the more I taught the more I began to understand the true light of yoga; the gift of seeing a piece of ourselves in everyone. Yoga taught me to ditch judgments and condemnation and to give way to the commonality in all beings. That even the great sages and saints (and the modern yogic gurus) deal with temptation. Yoga has not saved me from meeting angry people or shielded me from crankiness on days that are packed with annoying things like traffic or the common cold —it has though helped me return to the breath and the practice to renew my sense of self.
The self that is unplugged from daily demands and worries; the self that is free to dance like a child in the rain filled with wonder and gratitude for the simplicities of life despite challenges. The yogic journey is a never-ending road with curious turns that reveal new insights, like the splendid colors of the ever-evolving sunrise.