I never used to think of myself as a “bad” yogi, but I’ve always known I’m certainly no perfect yogi. I don’t practice asana every day, my favorite word is four letters and starts with the letter F, I can’t stand kale, and I love sushi too much to give it up. I am also a firm believer that each person’s yoga practice is uniquely and personally their own.
My own yoga practice started just three years ago when I came across an Instagram post of Rachel Brathen doing a handstand on a beautiful beach in Aruba and I thought to myself, “I want to do handstands!” Three years ago, my practice was entirely body focused with the tall and mighty handstand leading the way. I would practice kicking up against the wall of my apartment building on the concrete ground in the small “yard” where I live—I like to think of it as my own little slice of urban jungle. Through my handstand practice, I began teaching myself vinyasa. Sounds like a completely backwards way of doing things, but that is how yoga came into my life: because of a picture on Instagram. And my life would never be the same.
I continued to practice vinyasa on my own, watching videos on YouTube and eventually joining classes at a studio after work. I would attend class once a week and practice on my own almost every other day, creating my own flows and loving each and every breath and movement. Eventually, I would take a class at my local Lululemon where the instructor briefly introduced the yoga sutras. Intrigued by the depth of yoga beyond the physical, I read the sutras in multiple translations, studied the yamas and niyamas in depth, and knew in my heart that I wanted to be a teacher..all within the first 6 months of my practice! By the end of my first year of practice, I had researched trainings, contacted teachers, and decided on the yoga school I would attend to deepen my own spiritual and physical practice and become a certified yoga instructor.
It would take another year and a half before I could attend my teacher training. During that time, life as I knew it changed drastically. I can honestly say that the last two years of my life have been two of the most challenging years I have ever faced. I traveled to the other side of the world and became a mother to a child that is not my own, learning the true meaning of unconditional love and of letting go. I went through the painful and difficult process of detaching my ego, my self-worth, and my identity from my job as a scientist, the only identity I had ever known for myself.
My yoga practice also changed; instead of practicing handstands, I studied, I wrote, I practiced letting go, I practiced loving kindness towards other, but more importantly toward myself. I practiced shraddha, unshakeable faith in the Universe, and this is most definitely a constant practice. At the time, I could not see how I was still being faithful to myself and my practice when my practice looked so different from where I began.
In April 2015, I traveled to Bali and spent five amazing and challenging weeks immersed in Balinese culture, bonding with 12 amazing women and four knowledgeable and compassionate teachers, learning how to be an open, intuitive, and skilled yoga teacher, and ultimately, learning more about myself. There’s no question I returned from Bali a different woman. I was grounded, calm, tan, and a certified yoga teacher! I also returned to my full time scientist position where I spent 10 years building my career but had slowly lost passion for. And on the weekends, I began teaching small classes at my local Pilates studio where the owner graciously offered me time and space to build my teaching practice. My first class as a real, live yoga teacher had only four people and half of them were my family members, but it still felt amazing!
Today, I find myself at a crossroads in life. I have taken time away from my job as a scientist to do some deep personal exploration into how I truly want to move forward. Like so many others, I am filled with anxiety, doubt, judgment, and fear. I have a trillion questions and no answers.
Still, my yoga practice is helping me to learn how to sit still with these uncomfortable emotions and thoughts; learn how to transmute fear into excitement, paralysis into potential; learn how to let go more and more every day. I am learning that, though it may not look like I’m practicing yoga every day, my practice is getting deeper and deeper every day.
Over to you: did you have a conventional yoga journey, or take the road less traveled? How does your yoga practice reach into other areas of your life off the mat?