When I first met yoga it was through a teacher at a local bar. It was in the middle of a tumultuous time of my 20something experience, though, who am I kidding, there are many more of those to come. We engaged in the typical “what do you do for work?” conversation and when he said he taught yoga I damn near scoffed. “You do what?!” He told me that I should try it (scoff again) and we left it at that. It’s safe to say that the only yoga I was interested in trying was lifting a glass of beer and putting it back down again. He was persistent, though. Every week he’d remind me that he was going to DJ a class on New Year’s Eve and that it’d be right up my alley; black lights, glow-in-the-dark body paint, and awesome music. How did he know?! After waffling for a few weeks I thought “why not? What do I have to lose?” On December 31st, 2012 I drove a half hour outside the city to a little studio in Folsom and embarked on a remarkable journey. After that 2 hour class I saw a lady whom I’d met just before the event started and she said “wow, you’re glowing.” I was, and I knew this was just the beginning. Since that day I’ve practiced almost every day, save for the 109th day (the number 108 is sacred in the dharma surrounding the practice) and a day while I was sick. After almost 150 practices I’m finally ready to write about the six things I gained from my practice…thus far.
6. A stable and healthy workout
Like many new practicitoners I started my practice for purely the physical benefits. I didn’t initially know what I was getting myself into but after that first class I knew for sure that practicing would help me shed a few pounds. Before I started, the only thing that came to mind was slow stretching that looked pretty tame. Then I met Power Vinyasa. I could get cardio, strength training, and a core workout in one 75 minute session. Yes, please!
(Photo credit: http://yogabunny.com)
5. Deeper connection to my body
Up until I started my practice, I would eat and drink everything and anything I craved – soda, sweets, fast food, you name it. After about a week of constant practice my cravings started to change. I wanted more greens, water instead of soda, fruit became a substitute for 5 cookies, the list goes on and on. The fuel that was powering my practice became important to me. I remember one day during week two I ate a burrito from Chipotle (yum!) and then cursed it all the way through my practice. I just couldn’t move. This isn’t to say that I don’t eat cookies or some other amazing sweet indulgences from time to time, it’s just not as often as it used to be. My body just doesn’t want it as much anymore.
4. Commitment to a process…to THE process
I’m a goal-oriented person. What 20something isn’t? When I first started the practice I was determined to do every pose better than everyone else. That just wasn’t possible. No matter how hard I’d push my beautiful 230-pound body I just couldn’t hold a side plank for 30 seconds or commit to the 20 some-odd yogi push-ups. I felt entirely defeated. That was until one of my favorite teachers said, “Run your own race. If your goal is just to do every pose we have a name for you, ‘poser.’ Commit to your own practice and do just that, practice.” After he said that I felt a huge weight rise off my shoulders – the only person judging my progress was me and I needed to be nice to myself for a change. This was also the day I committed to not getting on a scale for a while.
If you’re like me, you’re going non-stop from the beginning of your day to the very end. No time to stop and think about what you’re experiencing or to just settle your mind. My practice afforded me time every day to just be alone with my thoughts and to do a through scan of everything going on internally. This is one of the most liberating things about my practice and it’s arguably one of the main things that keeps me coming back to my mat almost every day. After the first 80 days of my practice I started to learn about meditation practices and made the choice to invest in mala beads. Now, almost every morning I wake up I chant my mantra to start my day. No phones or iPad. No technology. It’s the most sacred time of my day.
5 months ago it was incredibly easy to get me riled up. Raise your voice, disagree with my awesome (or so I thought) idea, engage in conflict, you name it. I was always on the edge of needing to walk (or storm) away. My practice taught me the idea of staying in the uncomfortable and just breathing through it. Don’t believe me? Go into a standing split then transition to a yoga curtsy 10 times…on each side…then kick your leg up into the air 5 times…on each side…then go into half moon and hold it for 30 seconds. Somewhere in between the burning, the expletives racing through my mind, and the thought of “I just can’t do this anymore,” I remember to breathe, and I stay. Sometimes a smile even appears. This might sound like insanity but when I remember to apply this to my life off my mat, the difference is remarkable. Whenever I feel the need to walk away or prove how much ‘righter’ I am, I just breathe, smile, and remember that the discomfort is all part of growth and the process.
This one was the most unexpected, and really, it shouldn’t have been. My first few months in Sacramento I was only hanging out with people from work. We’d work together and then go to the bar together. This made for a certain monotony that I’ve had a hard time articulating. I knew I wanted to branch out and start meeting new people so I took to the local dive bars. Surely I’d meet new people there and I did, but by and large they weren’t the people I wanted to make lasting connections with. Once I started my practice I’d begun to meet new people, making sure to introduce myself before classes, giving out my number here and there, and then it just exploded. In just a few short months I’ve found incredible connections to people who have taken so many paths to this point in their lives. Each one of them inspires me tremendously. These are people I’d go out of my way to see whether it’s to share a drink on Friday night or a Saturday morning practice. Holding space with the tremendous community of yogis in this city is amazing. The stories, the experiences, the fun times, I’ll never trade them. These are bonds that I’m committed to cultivating. This community has become part of what drives me to be better in every part of my life from work to play. One last note about community and what this specific connection has allowed me to experience – this year my birthday was no doubt going to be a difficult one. I recently moved away from many of my best friends to a new city where I know few people on a deeply personal level. During the afternoon I went to my favorite class (how fitting that it was on my birthday) wearing the cutest little birthday hat that my friend Megan had given me. At the end of practice you typically keep your eyes closed before offering up one final Om to seal the experience. Something different happened this time. The teacher asked us all to open our eyes and to my surprise she was sitting right in front of me. Now, I wasn’t in a spot that made this ‘normal’ and I immediately knew something was up. She told the class that it was my birthday and invited them to all send me a positive wish for the next year of my life with the final Om and before I knew it, a sea of Oms from roughly 60 yogis erupted all faced in my direction. I lost it. Tears streaming down my face, I felt an outpouring of love, connection, and support from people who I shared practice with every week. I went to the teacher after class to express my gratitude for such an amazing present to which she responded, “You’re a staple of this community.” I lost it again.
After writing about these six things I’ve just come to the realization that these are things that I’ve been struggling to find over the course of my life. Everything I’ve done has been aimed towards gaining one of these things. Now, all at once I’ve found a connection that keeps me grounded in loving myself, my community, and my daily experience. My practice has been and will continue to be the most amazing gift I’ve ever received.
Update: Since I published this post two years ago I’ve become a Power Vinyasa Yoga Teacher in Sacramento, CA. Recently I was nominated to be named one of Sacramento’s Most Eligible Bachelor’s. Head here to learn more and vote for me!