Why I Do Yoga
OK, so please don't judge me too harshly when I admit that I had no idea (until a week ago) that the place you went to practice yoga was called a Shala. Even after about a year of semi-devout practice (that amounts to about 3 times a week for me), I feel like I should know this — and so much more about yoga — but I don't.
I just recently learned this word when I switched yoga studios (Shalas? I'm not quite there yet ... )
But that's not really what this story is about.
What I really want to talk to you about is how I arrived, not just at the studio I'm at now, but how I got to this moment, both physically and mentally.
This past Saturday, my new Shala's owner and main instructor asked the group to take on a journaling project. Her instructions were to grab a notebook, flip to a blank page and write a red dot.
Label it: "I am here." Then, write down how you got here.
Here = Your mat. Your practice. Today. Your state of mind. Your self, as you exist, in the present.
Ummm, ok, no pressure.
The short answer for how I got here is, I was looking for a workout just as rigorous as the heated sessions I'm used to, but without the, well ... heat. So I switched from a heated Vinyasa studio to a traditional Ashtanga studio. I need the mental and physical rigor of a challenging class because, as I discovered in my 20s, if I'm going to exercise, I want as much intensity as possible.
The longer answer is, there's this toxic story I've told myself practically my whole life, and it has gotten in the way of my ability to see myself as physically powerful, graceful and strong.
The story has many variations, but it meanders around the same theme.
It goes something like this: "You are not an athlete."
Other popular variations include:
"You are not fast enough."
"You are not good at _______ [dribbling | passing | kicking | batting | shooting]."
"Team sports just aren't your thing."
The issue with this vein of dialogue, of course, is that it was so myopic. For the first 22 years of my existence, I equated adept physical movement — capital-A Athleticism — with sports.
It wasn't until I got into running that I realized I didn't have to be a track goddess or a soccer stud-ette to be an athlete. I just had to put one foot in front of the other until something deep inside (the universe, my inner voice, my shaking quads or quaking lungs — or maybe just the last song on my playlist) signaled to me that I was done.
Eight years, three marathons and a smattering of half marathons and 5ks later, I'd finally become acquainted with my inner Ms. "A." I came to realize, with tremendous relief, that she was nothing more than the deepest, most primordial part of me — the part that wanted to move.
But here's the funny thing about moving: As we get older, the moves often change. I reached a point about a year ago where running and the occasional weight-lifting session just didn't do it for me anymore. It stopped being fulfilling or fun. And that's the other thing about being an athlete — a mover— no one tells you: It's ok to move on.
So, seeking the intensity of running but wanting something more, I rediscovered yoga. I'd always used Iyangar yoga as a cross-training break during race training. This time, however, I decided to try leaving everything I had, not on the pavement, but on the mat.
And whoa, buddy, what a difference.
In making Yoga my primary type of exercise, I began to rediscover not only the physical, but the mental benefits of the practice. I was no longer using yoga as a way to unwind my muscles and joints after a particularly hard training week. Now, I was using it to unwind my mind.
I've found that when I practice with enough intensity and really focus on my breath (it's not just lip service, friends: It's a thing) my mind goes to a completely different place. When I'm balancing, standing on my head or trying an especially difficult twist, there's simply nothing else to think about.
Stay. Breathe. Focus. Hold tight to your core, your self, your essence. Let go of the things that no longer serve you.
I'll never be able to release the mental and physical challenges of the week with bicep curls. But put me on that mat, and I am, as they say, transformed, if only for a moment. And now, as a still relatively new mother and a wife of ten years, as a person managing a career, a caretaker of two dogs, a homeowner, etc., I am someone who needs to release all manner of stress on the regular.
Simply put, to live is incredible. But I still need me some yoga to soften the inevitable harsh edges of this incredible life just a bit.
Combined with a relatively good sleep schedule, some prioritization of self care and a general commitment to being more honest with myself (and less tough, too) yoga helps to sustain, fortify, and maintain this body and mind I have been given.
This is why I am here.