Sometimes I think my path to the mat was guided by forces beyond my control. Whether I found yoga or yoga found me is something I will never quite know. I’m pretty convinced it’s a little of both.
My initial introduction to yoga was not the smoothest. The first class I remember going to was a post-holiday Bikram class with with my aunt Teresa & uncle Ed, both avid Bikram practitioners. The super high heat in that one and only Bikram class I ever attended scrambled my mind so much I left my entire purse in the waiting room, realizing only hours later that it was missing. I was definitely not in my yogic element.
After my Bikram experience, I was pretty convinced that I was a solitary workout kind of gal. Running, walking, biking, elliptical-ling, lifting, working with workout videos – if I could do it solo, it was in my workout repertoire. No sports or classes for me, thanks. Call it only child syndrome, but in most cases, I guess I just felt like I never “played well with others”.
Oddly enough, when yoga & I finally found each other last year, I discovered that it still allowed me to be alone, albeit in a group setting. I found my first yoga “home” in the gym I had been going to off and on for years – NYSC. With the guidance of some amazing and inspiring instructors, I learned that I was capable of accomplishing things I never dreamed of. I met and befriended a variety of people I never would have interacted with. I discovered that I became more in tune with my psychic, empathic self when I let my body and mind be cleared in an hour spent briskly moving through asanas, finding stillness, breathing, and ending nearly all classes in a quiet meditative space. To my surprise, I felt like I needed yoga.
Last year was also one of the most emotionally turbulent years that I’ve experienced. And through it all, I found myself yearning to find time to develop my practice. I craved time on the mat. I couldn’t always get it, but I tried my best to fit it in whenever I could.
I downloaded an iPad app for when I couldn’t get to the gym. I sought out & tried new yoga studios in different cities when I was traveling. I did yoga in my hotel room on business trips to center myself. I practiced yoga on a towel at my in-laws house by the pool at Christmas. I tried Aerial yoga … and loved it! I bought GroupOn’s and Amazon Local deals to try out new NYC studios. I went to the gym for lunchtime yoga classes. Who was I becoming?!
When I started working in Manhattan again, after years of being a solopreneur, I realized that I had entered into a yogi’s playground. So many different studios to try! So many different NYSC locations! So many new teachers!
And then the slow leak in my excitement bubble started to deflate me.
Practicing yoga in NYC was a completely different experience than the yoga practice I had developed in the NJ suburbs. I’m sure it’s no surprise that yoga practitioners in NYC are tough. They are competitive. They are athletic. They are supremely intense. I felt yoga-shamed way more often than I ever was in NJ. It was the inversion skills that really got to me. There were headstands and handstands and forearm stands and wheel – and Vrschikasana, better known as scorpion pose. SCORPION. I think I would be less fearful of an actual scorpion than the position. I’ll admit, I had serious doubts about whether I could “cut it” in these NYC yoga classes.
But then I reminded myself. Yoga is NOT a competition. No one is trying to “beat me” in class. I’m pretty sure that a lot of these people who flip up into these forearm stands and handstands with such fluidity and ease have been practicing for a LOT longer than I have.
Don’t get me wrong, I long to be able to practice more inversions with ease (maybe one day I’ll be a Scorpion queen) and I constantly strive to develop more core strength (oh Paripurna Navasana – my eternal nemesis). However, I often remind myself that the only one who really knows where I started, where I am today and where I strive to be – is me. It’s not always easy to ignore, or better yet, seek inspiration and find beauty in Ms. Bendy McBendy who flies into Galavasana with utter grace right in front of me. But yoga has a funny way of making one hyper aware of living in the present. Being in the now. Because all that really matters is that you are present and breathing.
As a girl who has always lived with body dysmorphia, yoga has made me appreciate and constantly reminds me to acknowledge the gifts that I have been given in the body that I have – balance, flexibility and strength. It’s amazing how bending into binding positions can release so much stress. Three of my favorite poses – Baddha Parsvakonasana, Baddha Konasana, and Vrksasana, all bring me to a place of peace. I amazed myself when I finally figured out how to make my body achieve Ardha Chandrasana with prayer hands – balancing my entire body on one foot, while bent in half.
Late 2013 into early 2014 required that I be VERY flexible and balanced off the mat in order to deal with everything that life was throwing at me. Sheer coincidence that yoga & I found each other right before the craziness began? I think not.
Now that things are settling down a little bit, I am happy to be able to start refining my yoga practice again. I’ll always hold my first teachers in NJ close to my yogi heart, and I am thrilled to have some new instructors here in NYC that I feel in-tune with. I continue to studio hop and explore new kinds of yoga, still in search of what fits me best. I’ve been told I would like Ashtanga and Kundalini styles, both of which I have yet to try.
There’s been fleeting thoughts about whether or not it might be a good idea for me to deepen my practice by registering for yoga teacher training at some point in the near future. My best friend and I have talked about planning yoga retreat vacations. Yup, I think it’s official, I’m hooked on yoga.
Ohm shanti y’all.