Monday, March 11, 2019

My Yoga Journey (Part One)

I signed my mum and I up for my first yoga class when I was about 21. The class was 10 or so weeks of gentle hatha at the local rec centre.

I had danced from before I could form memories until I was 13. Teenage self consciousness combined with my life long choreographer following other pursuits created an environment that was no longer compatible with Christmas concerts and an all 10 year old girl rendition of Oliver. 

I missed dance. In the back of my mind I was always going back, I didn't know when, but I was certain it was just a temporary hiatus. I got older and I got wider, and at the beginning of my twenties I was firm in the belief that I was too big to dance, I would get back when I looked like a dancer again. The dance world as I remembered it was not kind if you did not "look like a dancer."

So in an effort to spend time with my mom and maybe somehow start to get my body back to a place where I felt I could dance again, we took rec centre yoga.

The instructor was Indian, very short, much older than I had envisioned, she had a belly and walked a little slow. I had a picture in my head of some wellness poster, with a young skinny, very fit woman, and water trickling over stones or something. I don't really know what I thought but I remember being surprised. 

She lit some incense, dimmed the lights and had us all gather at one end of the expansive, gym-like room. Then she led us expertly through a series of basic hatha poses. It felt good to move my body again, and I took the direction easily. My body felt strong and intelligent. It knew what I was asking it to do and responding, and I was proud of my body for the first time in years. The strength and flexibility I thought had been buried under years of inactivity and late night binge eating was still there, still accessible when I asked for it. It calmed me so thoroughly, I always fell asleep during savasana.

My body was feeling good, and after a few weeks I began to notice my moods shift as well. Class was Tuesday night and by Monday I would feel anxious and scrunched up on the inside. After yoga I was calm and relaxed. I began to look at yoga and my body differently. The purpose of yoga was not to perform the poses just right, as it had been in dance. In fact it felt like as ongoing medicine as well as a physical goal to be mastered. 

When the class was over I didn't sign up again. I was 21, working at Starbucks, paying more than half my money to rent and bills and couldn't financially commit to anything non-essential. Instead I got a couple of DVD's and began cultivating a home practice. 

I worked hard at my form because I had no confidence in myself. Lacking a dance teacher to correct my posture I felt vulnerable and alone and like I wasn't doing it right. The medicine was still there though. I would stop practising for a while, then come back to it if I was feeling anxious or stressed. 

I wasn't entirely safe at home though. My boyfriend at the time took any excuse to sexualize my movements. Any movement my body made was fair game, if he found it arousing then I must be doing it on purpose. This fed my self consciousness and I would only practice when he was out. 

I went to a few classes here and there over the years. They all seemed to pan out the same. I was the biggest one in the room by an obvious margin. I would get stared at, deliberately not looked at, helped too much by the teacher with things I could clearly do, or not helped at all when I was struggling and told to just try the next pose. I went to gyms, yoga studios, and never found somewhere I belonged where I could grow my practice and my abilities. 

Eventually I stopped practising yoga. Working from a DVD became frustrating as there was no one to ask a question, and my fruitless search for a teacher to help, had me completely discouraged. I felt stagnated, and frustrated with the whole thing, maybe yoga wasn't for me. I was never going to have a yoga body, so I was never going to master yoga. 

Two years later I left a very bad marriage. I was broke, a single mom to a one year old, and completely shattered mentally. One night by myself, I got the yoga mat out. I fell in love with yoga again. I literally cried when I got on the mat knowing I had not nurtured myself for so long. The mat stayed in the living room and I practised almost every night. Just for me this time. Because it felt good on the inside. My body was bigger again after having a baby, but it didn't change my strength and my flexibility. In fact this time because I was focusing on the inner work I noticed changes in my body. Instead of pushing myself and aiming for goals and arbitrary lines, I did the movements and the breathing and met my body where it was. 

For the first time in my life I began to think about where I wanted to go, what I wanted to do for work that would allow me some flexibility being a single parent, and the time to take care of myself in this way. I thought maybe I could teach yoga. Then I thought I had to lose weight, then I thought about how I didn't think I fit into the culture of a studio, and all my thoughts cascaded over each other to convince me I did not belong. But I kept practising and I made a deal with myself that I would keep it up almost every day for a year and then I would sign up for yoga teacher school. 

And I did. 

The story of my transformation through school is a profound one, and deserves it's own space, so that will be another post. The conclusion here though is I began my yoga journey for one reason, and as I grew, the practice took on different meanings for me and I ended up somewhere I could not have imagined 15 years ago. 

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