I used to take yoga classes at least three times per week. If I wasn’t in some packed Vinyasa class sweating on my mat, I didn’t feel like I did anything productive. When my practice became obsessive, I could often be found in my room with the door closed and a printed sequence of Patanjali’s Primary Sequence splayed out on the floor next to my mat. My body contorted in shapes, I was an ego, pulsing with a desire to achieve.
Fast forward seven years and some change, and my mat is now neatly tucked away in the corner of my bedroom. It’s not dusty nor unused; but it’s neatly complacent. I unfurl it on rainy days when I don’t want to go out for a run or when the classes at the YMCA are full, or just when I feel like I need a really slow flow, like the one I used to teach. My practice has shrunk down from 90 minutes to mere 10 or 15, and not even often during the week to call it a practice anymore. But I do, still. Yoga gave me my life back, and here’s how.
Before yoga got really serious for me (as I was embarking on a yoga teacher training), I was a tightly-wound shell of a woman, who was so afraid to go after her dreams or work hard at anything at all. I didn’t want to fail myself, and I especially didn’t want to fail my parents or my boyfriend at the time or my friends. And so I settled for living my life from the backseat, allowing others’ judgement and opinion to drive me forward. I worked dead-end jobs that were only miserable by my lack of effort, and I never once believed in my potential, nor did I know how to see it. Like some people live paycheck to paycheck, I lived weekend to weekend, drowning out any opportunity of change in alcohol and late nights out. This phase of my life seems like such a blur now when I look back on it, and not a day goes by that I don’t stand in awe at the transformation I’ve made. But how yoga played into that is something of my own little miracle.
My yoga teacher training was a 9-month experience that stripped me of the layers I’ve come to wear as ego-protection. I sat with women and learned how to cue a class and how to adjust my alignment; but then I sat with those same women and cried with their stories of abuse, rejection, failure, and fear. And I allowed them to see me cry my own stories – stories that I had willfully forgotten. Each month that passed, I felt renewed and lighter. No longer did I feel the need to fight my way through life. All I had to do was surrender to what my heart truly wanted, and somehow, the Universe would deliver. And if it didn’t, then I was meant for something more, and that wisdom alone gave me faith beyond my wildest expectations.
I changed because of yoga. It’s like someone had taken my hand and helped me remove the veil covering my eyes. I finally saw all of me – my childhood fears and traumas, my true relationships with other people, my habit patterns and ways of thinking. Most importantly, I saw my free will. I’ve always had the option to change myself for my highest good, yet I never took it in conditioning that I didn’t have the means. Yoga was like the gentle voice of God and friend, reminding me to look again, to try again every day.
So why then, with this new me, did I abandon my practice? Well, simple. I had this image one day of animating this practice that I came to love. In my bough of wild imagination, I saw Yoga come to life, as a shining friend in all her glory, and she said: I’m just a tool, you have everything you need. I realized then that no mat or class or sequence in the world would ever dim the grace that this practice has given me. Even if I seldom attend class anymore or rarely roll out my mat, I have everything that I need where it counts. Oliver Wendell Holmes once wrote, a mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions. As in my own life, I can never go back to living weekend to weekend, unaware of the infinite potential that lies within me. And everything that sets my soul on fire, and everything blessed that I can give to this world has always been in my heart. Yoga helped me find it and express it, as I am expressing it to you now in my words.
When I stopped hanging my routine on the hooks of this divine intervention, rushing through life to make yoga fit some wild weekly schedule, I fell back into those hands of surrender that sought me out in training, years ago. Now, I run. Three miles today, five miles tomorrow. Maybe in a year, I’ll be climbing a mountain or tightrope walking between canyons. And maybe in another year yet, I’ll be sitting with a published book of my own, holding my words like pebbles in the sea. These endeavors ask for courage, and it’s courage that I’ve adopted after years of being afraid of my own shadow. It’s strength that I’ve found so far away from four corners of a yoga mat, and this strength – I fiercely believe – is the only one that really counts.
As a dear, old friend – in all her glory – Yoga came in and stripped the layers of my ego-protection. As I stood there, naked and exposed, I had nowhere else to hide, but finally own my innate power, and smile. I have a service to this world, in my words and in my sheer resilience to keep moving forward; for in each step that I take, you take one with me.
Yoga gave me my life back; the life that was waiting for me to say yes. The making of my future from here on out is just as vast, just as inviting. Just as free.