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Throughout most of my adult life, I have dabbled in and out of yoga. My first taste of yoga came at the ripe age of 17 – I took a yoga class at CPCC to fulfill a college credit. My teacher was in her 70s; her name I cannot recall. I kept thinking, “she’s so bendy…and I’m not.” She had immersed herself in her practice 30 years ago, and she was where I desperately wanted to be – secure, happy and content with life and the sufferings that come along with it. But, being the insecure, immature, self-conscious teenage girl I was, I didn’t stick with it or pursue it at that time due to lack of understanding and fear.

In college and right after, I had several friends who were yogis, one in particular who was not only a certified yoga teacher but also a massage therapist. His connection to his practice was astounding. He always had a sunny disposition on life, despite its ups and downs. He applied elements of his practice “off the mat,” and it showed. I tried a few classes, but the connection was lacking. I was envious.

Vivian Peaceful Warrior BeachA few years later, I found myself back in Charlotte. One of my best friends growing up went through a breakup, and yoga was her salvation. She found the connection at a local studio, and for two years spoke frequently about how much it helped her. I went to her studio for a class and hated it. Hot power flow, with pop music as the backdrop. I was overweight, out of shape, and struggled to keep up. It was disappointing and I felt insecure once again; how could so many people in my life find a connection to a practice that’s essentially stretching and breathing?

Fast forward to the summer of 2012. Over the last year, I went through two surgeries for my gallbladder and had been officially unemployed for 3 months; I was laid off due to a company merger. I was in the middle of an identity crisis – I had attached so much of who I was to the job I performed. While on one hand I felt the excitement of rediscovering myself at the age of 31, on the other hand I felt boring. I put such an emphasis on work and now that was gone. It was scary.

Then one night, a friend invited me to join her for a yoga class at Be Yoga. The next week, I was in the Dilworth studio. A gorgeous, fresh-faced, cheerful brunette led our class [Kellie Jackson Daniel], and I left feeling like I was floating on a cloud. This was unlike any yoga class I’ve ever taken – there was no music, everyone was at a different level, she encouraged the use of props, and I didn’t feel self-conscious like I had before. I was still overweight, but there were people of all shapes, sizes and ages in my class. I was literally glowing when I walked out. I couldn’t thank my friend Shivonne enough.

Every week I went back, at least once or twice a week to Kellie Jackson Daniel’s class on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. I found it was the only thing to get me out of my head. I noticed my body was changing too – I gained flexibility and strength, and physically I was starting to look a little different. My clothes were getting loose.

Vivian Aerial Yoga HandstandEventually I gained confidence in my practice and started branching out to other classes, like slow flow and vinyasa. Each teacher has their own unique style that I embrace to its fullest. Lee Anne Smith is so funny and laid back, but has a serious demeanor…I find myself laughing through each practice she leads. Allison Modaferri Brewster’s constant encouragement and endless patience makes the time fly by far too quickly. Elizabeth Dickinson’s angelic voice, whether speaking or singing, instantaneously calms you. Becky Tin and Emily Elder’s intense vinyasa practices leave me breathless and wanting more. This is just a few of the amazing teachers this studio has – I haven’t taken a class with a teacher I didn’t like.

I became employed again. I began volunteering at the front desk one day a week at the Carmel studio and subsequently began practicing several times a week – the Carmel studio had been open for several months, and is a lot closer to my home and work. I was feeling great. Then I suffered heartbreak at the beginning of February.

My relationship ended, and I was crushed. I didn’t know what to do with myself. So I started going to yoga six days a week. On the seventh day (Wednesday), I worked the front desk. Yoga was the only thing that got my mind off of my heartbreak for an hour and a half a day. Each time I went to the mat, I felt uneasy; uneasy about where my life would be without this person I loved so very much, what was the next step, how was I going to get through this.

The great thing about yoga is this – every day, I show up on my mat expecting the unknown. I have no idea what sequence of poses my teachers will present. I never know where it will lead. Then one day it clicked – life is full of unknowns, just like my practice. I’m okay with going to the mat not knowing what’s going to happen…I can be okay with life throwing its unknowns at me. That truth set me free.

I apply my practice to daily life in so many ways. If I feel myself getting anxious or angry, I start my throaty Darth Vader yoga breathing (the “technical” term is ujjayi pranayama) and I instantly feel calm. Joseph Snider, one of my wonderful teachers who is now in Colorado, would say in practice, “The most advanced yogi isn’t the one who can do each pose perfectly; it’s the one who can smile through even the most difficult of challenges. It’s the one who can fall out of a pose and laugh about it.” When something difficult or challenging happens, I smile and take it as it comes. If I fall, I laugh about it. I thank Joseph for that.

Three and a half months later, I look at myself and see an entirely different woman. Physically, I’m 20 pounds lighter, totaling 50 down since January of last year. I have muscles, and a core that is starting to show itself. I can do poses I didn’t think were possible, like crow and bird of paradise. I am more physiologically connected to myself than I’ve ever been. Mentally, I’m happier than I think I’ve ever been in my entire life. I’ve discovered who I am; identity crisis averted. I am a yogi who is the cutest Dutchorican you’ll ever come across. I have much love for yoga, hip-hop, food and life.

I look back now and realize this heartbreak was ultimately the catalyst for connecting me with my practice, much like it did for my friend a few years back. I can’t thank him enough for that experience. Because had I not gone through it, I’m not sure I would be writing this.

Everyone seeks a connection to a physical practice in some way, whether to become healthier, for aesthetic purposes, or for meditative benefits. It’s amazing that for 15 years, I dabbled in and out of yoga…and now I have the connection I so desperately sought…a meditative, physical practice that connects my body with my breath. I am thankful for my experiences that led me to Be Yoga. I am thankful for Be Yoga helping me to advance me in my practice in more ways than I can express through words. And, I am forever grateful for my practice.