When Wendy asked me to write a paragraph or 3 about my personal journey and what yoga means to me, I immediately thought, “That’s not enough.” Then I wondered how to do it without sounding egoic, fake, or just plain stupid. Then I decided to stop thinking so much, be real, and let it flow. That, boys and girls, is yoga.
I’d always had a general preconception of yoga in the past as learning how to be bendy or perform cool party tricks and feats of strength. I thought it was for flakes or the enlightened or some weird cop-out form of exercise. Then I read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert and her experience was so very relatable, that I was moved to try yoga myself as a means of working through my own internal conflicts. So a friend took me to my first official class at Charlotte Yoga. I was apprehensive at first. Surrounded by seasoned yogis with beautiful bodies, glowing faces, and a sense of calm that my control issues never allowed, I felt inadequate and scared. Half moon was a pipe dream, Crow was a movie with Brandon Lee, and true mental/emotional enlightenment seemed mystically elusive. But I tried. My stubborn and competitive nature would allow nothing else and I left with a physical vibration (prana) and emotional release that was nothing short of miraculous. I returned a few times more but life, as they say, got in the way and my practice never really got off the ground.
2 years later, in March of 2011, a long-term relationship had ended and I found myself living alone, 50 lbs. overweight, and contemplating who I was without this man and the direction we had pointed our lives in. I suddenly realized that I’d been spending half a decade defining myself in relation to another person. Let me tell you, that’s bunk. I began to focus on taking care of myself instead. I bought every Jillian Micheals DVD known to man and started working out every day. I changed my diet, reconnected with old friends, and got back to the outdoor lifestyle I’d always enjoyed so much. By October of 2011, I’d lost 35 pounds. My daily walks were no longer challenging and I could feel my body craving, and for the first time CAPABLE, of being pushed harder. I started running. I ran on treadmills, I ran on roads, I ran on greenways. Forrest Gump had nothing on me. But I found my peace running primitive trails. In the woods, there’s nothing but the breeze, the smells, the rocks and roots passing under your feet. I felt at one with the cosmos, in tune with nature, and I had another epiphany. Running had helped my reach my goal weight but what good is a balanced body without a balanced mind? Could I capture the feeling I had running trails in my every day existence? I had corrected my physical issues but still had a lot to let go of mentally. As Elizabeth Gilbert said, “I guess what I want to learn is how to live in this world and enjoy its delights but also elevate myself to God.” Controlling the physical body is one thing, controlling the mind is personal divinity. I knew yoga was the answer.
I was trying to figure out how to make a regular practice financially feasible when my friend, Deanne Lawing, told me about her teacher training at Be Yoga and informed me of the new studio opening with a front desk work-trade option. I jumped at the chance and met Lee Anne Smith shortly thereafter. It was summer of last year and Be Yoga South was about to open. I picked up a Tuesday night shift and started practicing a few times a week. A whole world with new challenges and learning experiences opened up for me. At first, my practice was still rooted in the physical body. I had natural flexibility and had developed the strength to pull off those “pretty” poses but my focus still hinged upon form, or balance, or perfect alignment and my mind still wandered. Mild anxiety about changing my way of thinking from the logical and concrete to something more ethereal and unknown frankly scared the shit out of me. Then one day Anje Seufert introduced me to the concept of Aparigraha. She began her Friday morning vinyasa class by explaining that we all had SOMETHING that no longer served us and should be let go of. She talked about how these things kept us from reaching our full potential. She connected. After class, I asked her to write down the meaning of Aparigraha for me. I still carry that crumpled slip of paper in my wallet because that is where my practice changed.
I started spending my time on the mat not [entirely] worried about the height of my hips in Crow or how to engage my abs in headstand, but questioning my thoughts when setting an intention, being aware of what’s bothering me on any given day, accepting that and letting it go. Every inhale became an opportunity and every exhale a release. I realized that when I was focused and actually “in the moment” everything untrue and bothersome crumbled away. I started reading more, questioning more, and taking ideas like the Toaists Wu Wei or my Hindu mantra to Rama, off my mat and out into life. Lo and behold, I was learning how to control my mind and my emotions through asanas, breathing, and acceptance of what is. But, most importantly, I had found my OWN direction navigating the grounding of physical challenges and the ascension of meditative reflection. I found an openness and confidence that was missing before and radiant now.
None of this would be possible without Be Yoga. Here, I’ve found a very special community, a family of sorts. Teachers like Lee Anne and Anje, Chrys Kub and April Cannon put me through sequences I never would have survived 2 years ago. Others, like Kristine Ferrulli and Tara Riley, taught me about technique and refinement by example. Fellow students turn me on to new ideas every day I step inside the studio. Now, with an open heart, open mind, and (relatively) open hips, I find myself ready and capable of leading newer students on the same journey. I’m starting teacher training in October at Be and can not wait to deepen my own practice, and share what I’ve learned with others.
After all, yoga, to me, is the great equalizer, the ultimate scale. It will push your body and open your mind, it will diminish your perceived flaws while elevating your successes. It will bring balance to your life and make you everything you need, all at once. I look forward to seeing you all, every day, on the mat.
Om Sri Ramaya Nama,