The Promise of Yoga
My first yoga class was in 1994 at the neighborhood YMCA, and the Iyengar teacher was calling out poses in Sanskrit. I had no idea what he was talking about, so I looked over at the girl next to me and followed her. While holding poses he chanted phrases from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, in Sanskrit and then in English. At least I understood some of what he was saying. When we rested in child’s pose he would tell crazy stories of being in India with Mr. Iyengar. Speaking Sanskrit, Yoga Sutras, and living in India– It was all greek to me! Honestly, I thought this guy was a bit coo-coo. Still, I found myself returning to his class again and again. The yoga hook was sinking in, and I was beginning to understand the strange sparkle in the eyes of these mat-carrying strangers as they faithfully poured into class each week.
After a few months of yoga, I felt something waking up in me that had been fast asleep and snoring loudly. Like a hibernating bear coming out of her winter cave, I was hungry! I had a strong urge to feast on this practice called yoga. Even though I was fit and religiously attended my step aerobics class 3 times a week that played thumping 90’s music, I found yoga was so rich and satisfying that I lost interest in my other physical pursuits.
Seeing me now, you might guess that my early days of yoga were smooth and easy, but they weren’t. My triangle pose felt more like a trapezoid, I lost my balance in tree pose (especially during finals week), and pulled my hamstrings because I was tying to be like the gumby girl next to me. One day after asana practice the teacher led us through a quiet breathing practice, and the room was so still I could almost hear my neighbors heartbeat. I started to feel anxious and thought my heart was going to pop out of my chest. I took a deep breath and then gasped loudly. Twenty pairs of eyes popped open and shot straight at me in surprise. I was embarrassed, yet I returned to class the next week to find out what else would awaken in me next.
The following year I started and stopped doing yoga many times. It was a rough start. However, I noticed that when I did yoga I felt more grounded and connected to myself, stronger in my body, and steadier in my mind. Simple poses such as downward dog began to feel like home. As soon as I hopped on my mat I could feel my body release and my bones settle towards the earth. My breath softened and flowed with little effort. My mind slowed and I felt at ease. Nothing else in my life that had the same effect on me.
Occasionally in college I drank beer to help me feel relaxed. Ok to be honest I partied like crazy my first year. Unfortunately, drinking also made me feel disconnected from my body and a bit numb and spaced out. Yoga was a different kind of relaxing, it allowed me to access a resting state of relaxation and be alert at the same time. Through the practice of yoga I learned how to deepen my focus and awareness while holding postures in class. I glimpsed a true and natural state of being that felt sublime.
The journey that began eighteen years ago continues to deepen and feed me in innumerable ways. If you are beginning or returning to yoga, I applaud you! I clearly remember how daunting it was to start or re-start my practice. The path of yoga curves and spirals, it is not a straight line to success. At times you might feel awkward, and your mind or muscles will not do what you ask. I encourage you to stay with it! Over time, yoga can move you in a direction that feels like home. It teaches you how to be at home in your own skin. There is a good reason yoga has been practiced for thousands of years and by millions of people. Most of us are yearning for happiness, a fulfilling life, and a connection to something greater than themselves. Yoga offers that. But unlike instant tea, it takes time to steep. After years of practice, I am amazed at how the fruit of yoga continues to ripen and get more sweet by the day.
“Hatha Yoga teaches us to use the body as the bow, asana as the arrow, and the soul the target.” BKS Iyengar