My Life on the Mat

I thought a lot about what I would write for today. It's been just over three weeks since I joined that elusive one percent and ran my first marathon. As of the time I'm writing this, it's been just over one day since I officially began my training for yoga teaching certification. We're approaching the winter and my second running anniversary. All things I could talk about from a training perspective.

But what I want to talk about today is more of a journey than a goal. That makes sense for me, though, because even though goals are pretty much the only way I get anything done, I prefer to think of such things as benchmarks along the journey, rather than endpoints or finish lines—even when they, in fact, are finish lines.

I want to talk about my life on the yoga mat. There's a Cliff Notes version here. There's been plenty of ink spilled on the topic of yoga here on this blog. But yoga is so much more to me than a future source of income, a couple of blog posts about studio tips and home practice tricks, or being a brand ambassador.

When I started yoga (10 years ago, about when I was 16), where (my living room in the little yellow house), why (boredom after the end of my dancing and cheerleading days and the desire to do something physically engaging besides making out with my then-boyfriend), and how (with a Rodney Yee DVD) are just details. But they're the ones I find myself repeating most often. Just the other day in YTT, my classmates and I shared how we each began our yoga journeys and those details were the first things I mentioned. But those trivial tid bits do so little to talk about why I continue to choose to be a yogi every day, and why I want to make it part of my life's work.

For a long time, I was an inconsistent yogi, popping on a DVD or pretending I knew anything about sequencing on whims here and there. I'd practice every day for two weeks, then not again for three weeks, then every other day, then take three months off. In college, I elected the one-credit yoga class for my physical education requirement to graduate. My teacher Ro reminds me so much of my current main teacher Donna, and I think that's one of the reasons I like Donna so much.
Ro was very obviously Italian down to her teased hair, Sopranos-inspired voice, chubby fingers wrapped in gold bands—she always reminded me of one of my aunts—and about four feet tall, so by all outward appearances, not exactly what 21-year-old-me pictured as a yogi. (Looking back, I hate that I thought this. It's like how irritating it is when I hear people pontificate on who does or doesn't look like a runner. Just show up at any finish line and you'll see. We're all different, and we're all runners. Same goes for yogis—just come to a studio and see for yourself.) But she opened a whole new world to me. Until then my practice took place entirely at home, and while I had an idea of what I was doing, had decent flexibility and strength, and was even beginning to learn some Sanskrit, I was blind and dumb to everything the yoga world had to offer. It was in Ro's class that I first learned about Kundalini and other types of yoga besides Hatha, ujjayi and other breathing, chakras and balancing them, and meditation. It was Ro who saw my white chakra, and it was Ro who helped me learn to see through my third eye.

Listen, I know some of that sounds like complete and utter crap to some of you. I know it's hard to take me seriously when I say a breathing exercise can soothe fear and anxiety and even real, traumatic pain. I know the second someone says "third eye" without a trace of irony, a lot of people will tune out. I'm not trying to convince you of it, and I know some of it even sounds at war with my Bad Yogi style. I'm not asking you to believe it or lie on the ground and start breathing into your root chakra (although if you want to I can point you toward a great chakra balancing meditation). But I thought all of this was new agey BS until I started experiencing it for myself, so take that as you will.

Anyway, back to the point. As Ro's student, I felt a connection with a person that I had never experienced before. It was like her commitment to her practice, and her commitment to teaching, equipped her to see something in me that others couldn't, and that I didn't know was there myself. It was being her student that made me realize I wanted to be like her, inasmuch as I wanted to lead others in the way she led me. I wanted to guide yogis in the way she guided me, and I wanted to open eyes and ears the way she opened mine. I believed and continue to believe so much in the power of the connection between yogis, between students and teachers, that I want to make more of that power exist in the world.
It seems silly now to say that after my time with Ro, my yoga practice went back into the dark for a long time. I reverted back to my intermittent now-and-again ways until late 2013, when I found myself in a really difficult place in my life. Essentially, there was a great big emptiness, and I tried to fill it in a lot of wrong ways. And when I wasn't trying and failing to fill that space, I was wallowing. Ultimately, I ended up finding the exact right things to fill that emptiness with: yoga and running.

It was around then that I found Erin, the original Bad Yogi. I took her workshop in 2014 and it encouraged me to finally get back into a studio. I picked my studio in January of this year, finally finding a good balance between home and studio practice, and soon after enrolled in YTT—a promise I'd made myself some four years ago. I've waited something like seven months for the day to arrive, but it has, and now my training is under way.

Sometimes I look back on my life on the mat and wish I had a cleaner, more consistent journey. Sometimes I'll have people ask me how long I've been practicing, and I answer 10 years—but it's not true. It also wouldn't be true to say I started two years ago, because there were eight years of foundational understanding of asana (poses, basically the entirely physical part of yoga) practice beneath that. I wish I could say that I started yoga one day and never turned back, never had a desire to do anything else, never strayed from my mat, never questioned whether or not it was doing what it was supposed to do for me. I can't say any of that.

But I can say that yoga has undoubtedly changed my life for the better. I struggle to really conceptualize why though.
Of course, it's increased my bodily flexibility and made recovering from injuries (running-related and non) easier. But it's also increased the flexibility of my understanding, mental engagement, imagination, and creativity.
Of course, it's made my body stronger and more defined and toned. But it's also helped me stay lucid and clear and brave in the face of events that would have previously left me traumatized.
Of course, it's given me a new social sphere and experiences I wouldn't have otherwise had. But it's also made me so much more grateful for the time I get to spend alone, reflecting, finding gratitude, and understanding why some things are the way they are.
As I re-read everything I just wrote (which is starting to feel like a jumbled mess), I realized it could also function as an apology: I'm sorry to all of the people whose paths I've crossed who ever said something along the lines of "I tried yoga and just couldn't get into it," or "Yoga just isn't for me." I apologize for the probably intense response I had. But here's why: I do, truly, believe everyone CAN do yoga, and that everyone SHOULD. Because to everyone who has ever said that to me, I absolutely guarantee 100% that what you think is yoga is such a small part of what it truly is, and truly can be. It is for everybody and every body. It's for your mind and heart and soul as much as your physical body. I believe this in every fiber of my being, and that's why I'm becoming a yoga teacher. That's why I'm a brand ambassador. That's why I never shut up about yoga. That's why I'll get on your living room floor and demo some postures that will help your back pain. That's why I'll sit with you and point you toward chakra balancing resources. That's why I'll encourage you to try meditation one more time. Because I've never believed in anything like I believe in this: yoga can change your life for the better.

Now. How can I help you begin your practice?

__________________________

alyssagoesbang
Now on a less self-centered note, it's your turn to link up! Come tell Tracy, me, and our whole (amazing) Training for Tuesday community about your current goals, recent wins and woes, upcoming training plans, or whatever else fits. Don't forget to visit a few others and share some motivation and virtual high-fives!

Comments

  1. I love how passionate you are about Yoga, that's why you'll be an amazing instructor! xo, Biana -BlovedBoston

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  2. These yoga posts are some of my favourite on your blog - I am currently taking a fantastic yoga class with an amazing teacher & I love the impact that yoga is having on my life, so I'm soaking all of this up!!!

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  3. I feel like I need to point out that while you are insanely good at whatever you set out to do, you also WORK. Whenever you write, it's never just about "I did this, and it's over and it's cool." Instead, you talk more about the journey, the work, the hours, the training, everything that goes into it. You are the true definition of "It's the journey, not the destination" (although finish line destinations are pretty legit). I'm so glad you're having a good time with YTT ! I'm going to need you to put some serious thought into this travelling yogi biz I've mentioned before. Just sayin.

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  4. I agree, yoga can change your life. It did for me and I've so glad I tried it. Good luck with your teacher training. That, too, will change your life.

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  5. Thanks for sharing your story. My yoga story is pretty similar, took a class in college and was hooked but then very inconsistent. I'm really looking forward to hearing all about YTT. My goal/dream is to take YTT as soon as I get back from deployment. I'm not sure if I actually want to teach or just take it to learn more about yoga and be a better and more consistent yogi. I also get slightly irritated when someone says they can't do yoga or better yet won't even try it! Yoga can help you in every part of your life. Its a challenging workout that will help you build muscle while at the same time healing your mind.

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  6. Do you have a good stretch for the peroneal tendon? Particularly down low where it starts to swoop under the foot? That seems to be the area bugging me most, and I'd like it to just heal already!

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  7. love this post girl. i feel like i start a lot of my comments like that, lol. but seriously.
    have you ever done anything in your life where you started one day and never turned back? i haven't. literally. i think you have with running? the only thing i've ever done and not turned back is being alive, but i can't help that. lol. running, yoga, reading, swimming, friendships, relationships, work, school, whatever. it's all a squiggly line, not a straight arrow. i loved reading more about your journey, i honestly didn't know about it completely. when i met you, it must have been right at the start of the back again journey after you found Erin. I don't relish in your on and off relationship with yoga, obviously, please don't take it that way haha, but it does make me feel a bit better about my own. because technically i started yoga when i was like 22. but then i took like 4 years off. and right now, i haven't done yoga in weeks. i do it every day for a couple of weeks, then take like a month off. i hate my on and off again journey. i just wish i did it, all the time. i wish i could get better, but i can't without actually doing it, i know that. but like i said, nothing in my life has been a straight shot, more like a wiggly wobbly mess and I guess I don't mind that, as long as I get there eventually.
    Ro sounds awesome. I feel like you will totally be an awesome teacher to many someones in the future and then they will write about how you helped them start their journey :) you were that person for me!

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  8. Great post and beautiful pics! I was just telling my boyfriend last night that I continue to practice yoga because it literally makes me a better person. Running was my first love and I still continue to lace up multiple days a week but yoga gives me a feeling I can't describe and that I don't get from any other exercise.......it's magical! Thank you for sharing your journey.

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  9. how you feel about yoga is how i feel about muay thai! i can go on and on about it and when people are all "meh" i look at them and think they're nuts haha!

    it's so amazing when you find something you're so passionate about!

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  10. I've been that person saying yoga is not for me. Posts like this make me think about changing my mind.

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  11. I'm really glad you wrote this post today, I've had some questions I've been meaning to ask you. I am looking to make it more of a practice in my life for my mental and physical state. I am a member of a bikram yoga studio and I recently read an article how it's not great for you but regular, room temperature yoga is best so I am considering swapping. I'd be doing it at home now instead of a studio so I'm reading your article on at home yoga which is super beneficial. I guess I was just wondering what your opinions of bikram yoga were?!
    Linds @ Not A Mom

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  12. I love your passion for yoga. It is always so inspiring. I have tried and tried to get in to it and I don't think that I have given myself a fair shot. I started doing Barre 3 last week at home with YouTube videos. One thing I have decided? My balance is freaking terrible. Awful. I wonder how someone so graceful and flexible like I used to be...could have gotten so off. Maybe if I can get passionate about barre, it will be my gateway in to wanting to stick to yoga longer than a week or two :) I want to find something....anything...that I am passionate about as much as you are with this.

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  13. It is amazing to me that you were able to complete a yoga course for college credit. We had no physical education requirement so I never got to do anything like that. Related: another college that's not too far from me has a running class (last year their "project" was to train together and run the Richmond Marathon). I'm sure you can imagine my jealousy.
    I am a totally inconsistent yogi, which is why I don't really consider myself one, but I probably would have considered you a legit yogi even in your inconsistent days. Just like I consider just about anyone who runs a runner but have a hard time calling myself one...why is it so hard to apply labels to ourselves but not others? Anyway, I'm so glad you shared this. It filled in a lot of the gaps that I didn't know and made me even more excited for you to become someone's Ro or Donna in the future!

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  14. I absolutely loved reading this! I am glad that you have always found your way back to yoga even when you took a break. I also love how passionate you are about yoga! I definitely wish you lived closer because I would love for you to show me more poses, breathing techniques, and terminology. I have been absolutely loving going to yoga class. I wish that I could go more often than once a week.. hopefully one day!

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  15. I'm thankful that I read this today rather than shopping a few more Cyber Monday Deals. Thanks for always inspiring us and sharing the passions that keep you reaching for the stars. I promise that I will get my mat out in December, the mat that's remained in the trunk of my little prius since the day I moved from Oregon and has been begging for a studio, or a YouTube, or a self-satisfying flow full of warriors and pigeons alike.

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  16. I missed Training for Tuesday :(...with all the Thanksgiving hopla....blahblahblah. I will make sur eto make it in December.

    I have falling in love with yoga! I started taking classes in the Spring. I go once a week-wish I could go more but for right now the 1 class fits the schedule.

    I have been amazed at how my body has adapted to it and is so ready for it each week.

    Tamieka@fitballingrunningmom

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  17. I missed Training for Tuesday :(...with all the Thanksgiving hopla....blahblahblah. I will make sur eto make it in December.

    I have falling in love with yoga! I started taking classes in the Spring. I go once a week-wish I could go more but for right now the 1 class fits the schedule.

    I have been amazed at how my body has adapted to it and is so ready for it each week.

    Tamieka@fitballingrunningmom

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  18. Gosh when I start back being a good blogger ... or a blogger at all, I need to write about how much I miss yoga. I suck at fitness these days though I am trying. You continue to inspire girlie.

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  19. Yoga changed my life, straight up. Although I'm only a few months into my journey, I'm loving it. Really inspiring post!

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