Learning to Live in the Flow
I have shared bits and pieces of how my yoga journey began back in 2007, but it always begins the same way. Yet, each time I reflect upon it, I find more ways in which yoga was beginning to weave its magic into my life. It was the end of my first year of teaching special education and I was ending an abusive romantic relationship, that still didn't permanently end until the fall of 2008. I was looking for something to distract me from my life and to keep me occupied, or so I thought. My underlying goal, unbeknownst to me, was healing. I was looking for something to help begin the healing process. Recently, I was thinking about how yoga has been a constant thing in my life for the past 14 years. I've never done anything consistently for this long! And I keep coming back, over and over again. Once yoga begins to work its magic; you realize it's really just the tip of the iceberg; one more reason why I will continue to be a lifelong student of this practice.
Mona was my first yoga teacher and she taught Kundalini at the YMCA in Glendale, CA. At this point, I had no idea what I was doing or what Kundalini even meant. I just knew we'd do these strange seated postures with repetitive arm movements and I would look around the room and wonder what the hell we were doing . . . and why were these people so into this?? My mind was running non-stop, still not able to fully control it, but I had brief encounters with stillness and it was bliss. I wanted more! I even said to myself as I watched Mona one evening, that maybe someday, I could teach yoga. And the seed was planted. Self-conscious as I could see my reflection and the others around me in the giant wall of mirrors behind Mona, I learned to appreciate my body and how it could move. I even tried a Vinyasa class and attempted a wall handstand, which I failed at miserably. The other students made it look so easy. I had not yet developed proper breathing techniques or the necessary muscular strength to execute a handstand at my beginner level. I went back to that class a few more times before I realized I wasn't ready for that practice yet. I was already internalizing the concept of letting go. I continued my practice in Kundalini for a few more years. I had a consistent two to three times a week practice with Mona. And the occasional small group practice at her home.
When I moved in January 2010 to the South Bay, I quickly joined YogaWorks. It was clean. It was pretty. And I had a choice of over 100 classes a week. I went to an intro session and then picked different beginner classes to try. After a few classes of basics, I challenged myself to try other classes. I tried a few Vinyasa flow classes with a few teachers and then I discovered Iyengar. And wow! Between the precise alignment cues in Iyengar and the fast-paced Vinyasa flow format, I felt strong in my practice. I took the information I learned from Iyengar class and applied it when I went into a vinyasa-based class. For example, my Iyengar teacher, Koren, gave such explicit cues for alignment in Warrior 2; firm, but kind words to guide awareness to specific parts of the shape. We remained in poses for long holds where I could allow the feeling of the shape to become imprinted in my brain and then I could take that awareness into my Vinyasa-flow classes. Such beautiful and complementary practices. I loved how I could feel completely rejuvenated and restored from an Iyengar class as if I worked my ass off in a sweaty heat building Vinyasa class. Both practices allowed me to drop out of my brain and into my body. Savasana was becoming my favorite pose. I was finally able to release and let go; I could surrender fully into this shape.
My practice continued to stay consistent, and I progressed trying new challenging poses and I grew stronger physically. My asana practice continued this way until about March 2013. I suffered a miscarriage and took some time away from my mat. I was going through a very difficult and dark time. I eventually came back to mat by practicing online from home, not yet ready to go into the studio. I would get down on myself for not practicing as much as I had before and not wanting to go to the studio. Once I went back to the studio, I felt different. I felt weak. I felt like I was starting all over again, which brought on plenty of frustration. And then my wrist injury came November 2013. No surprise there. I can see now that my motivation to return to my strong vinyasa practice was ego driven and not based on the reality of my body. My body was not yet ready for the stronger practices my ego craved. So, again, I took some time away from my mat. Not being able to get on my mat in the same way really affected my mental health. I was struggling so much due to the miscarriage and not being able to have my regular asana practice. It was like my emotional pain manifested itself into a physical injury. I was in a bad space. When I returned to my home away from home studio, I decided to start with more restorative type styles. I wanted to make sure my body was ready to move, so I listened and it said slower and gentler.
Within a few months, I was ready to get back into the groove of my practice. I took a semi-private series with one of my favorite Vinyasa flow teachers so I could become more familiar with the Mysore Ashtanga practice, which is a set of poses that is practiced six days a week. My husband was already a dedicated Ashtanga practitioner and I figured I would give it a try. I loved how I could get up and start my day at the studio before work and then carry on with my day. I began my day with such a positive and balanced vibe. It was great. The morning became my favorite time of day to practice, which I still enjoy today. I did this for a few months and realized I needed more sleep in the morning. And practicing Ashtanga only two to three times a week wasn't enough to progress. I switched back to morning vinyasa-flow classes since that was a better fit for my routine. In early 2016 I enrolled in a yoga teacher training program and we were encouraged to try different teachers and different styles of yoga. This was such a valuable experience because I was able to observe different styles of teaching. The most important part of this exercise, in my opinion, was to see that there are just as many styles of yoga as there are teachers. I love how each teacher brings their own vibe and flavor to their classes. Trust me, you will find a teacher or a few with whom you will resonate with. When training was over, I began to teach yoga to my fellow colleagues at school. It was important to maintain my own personal practice either in a studio or on my own. Just because teacher training was over didn't mean I was finished learning. There will always be more to learn in yoga.
I eventually found my way to Yin by accident, by way of teaching it. I subbed a few Yin yoga classes without begin trained. . . typically a big NO-NO. But I quickly signed up to take a Yin yoga training because I wanted to know more about the practice. I've been teaching Yin since 2017 and it is part of my personal practice, along with Vinyasa. I love the diversity of yoga and all of the different styles. Each one is special and each one offers something a little different. Depending on my energy level, moon cycle, or headspace, I practice accordingly. I don't have the same frequency of vigorous practices like I had before, but I do practice with nice, long, juicy holds. Most importantly, I honor my body and I listen to her and I do what feels good. I don't force my body into shapes that are not meant for me. I will leave poses alone for years and then come back to them, to experience something I hadn't before. I am more aware of my body and its needs than I was when I first started practicing at 26. As I reflect on my yoga journey so far, I think about my teachers and how they have influenced me and how my practice has changed over time with more experience. Like water, I go with the flow. I am doing my best to preserve my physical practice, so I do other activities that support my asana practice. Like H.I.T.T. (high-intensity interval training) and weight lifting. Instead of resisting, I am allowing. I am allowing my practice to change as I change. We practice letting go and non-attachment. This is yoga. So when I can no longer practice asana (which I'm hoping will be a really, really, really long time from now,) I can still practice the other limbs of the yoga tree.
One of the huge takeaways from yoga that I've learned is to listen to my body and her needs. Over the years, those needs have changed, based on my physical body and my mental space. Being able to adjust my practice based on how I show up that given day gives me so much freedom to practice how I want to practice. Often times, I practice what I don't teach. I turn on some pumping 80s music or slow 90s alt rock and just move with my breath. For each day, there is a different way to practice. I encourage you to step on your mat with no plans, no goals; just move. Yoga is the tool that we use to help us get to the place we desire. Stillness, peace, and ease in our bodies. Yoga is for EVERY BODY. I wish more people knew this. It doesn't matter what color skin you have, what gender, what size, how much or little flexibility you have, if you went to college, or how many zeros are in your bank account. Yoga needs to be accessible to everyone. Yoga is what the world is crying out for right now. And I am grateful to be able to offer and share this practice.
P.S. And don't forget to drink some more water.