I am an accidental Yogi. I wasn’t born in an ashram. My parents weren’t hippies. I was never (and still am not very) flexible. There’s junk food, beer, and meat in my refrigerator. In school I was more competitive than the average kids – both physically and academically. And I certainly wouldn’t consider myself particularly patient or “zen”. Basically, growing up on a farm in western Colorado, I was about as far removed from Yoga as an American kid in the 80s could be.
So how did I get here? I have now practiced Yoga for 15 years, teaching adults and kids for the past 8 years, and even work as a writer for a kids’ Yoga teacher-training company. When did I, as they say, “drink the Kool-Aid” and trade in my traditional career path for mala beads and green juice?
I think Yoga started whispering to me when I was pregnant with my first child. Though I didn’t practice Yoga while pregnant with my daughter, I began to recognize the amazing power my body held. There I was, just eating toast or wandering through a bookstore, and my body’s wisdom knew just what to do to grow an entire person! As I grew in size, I grew more in awe of this vessel I had taken for granted for so long. And I started to take care of myself a little more: quality food that I spent time preparing myself, rather than grab-and-go processed meals, honoring my body’s natural rhythms by going to bed and waking up according to my energy (not my alarm), and speaking kindly to myself in appreciation of my body rather than complaining about parts that were “too small” or “too big”. I was tip-toeing into the Yoga pool, and it felt so good.
Once my daughter was born, I made the choice to stay home with her and give up my elementary teaching position at the local public school. And while that was the right decision for my family, it was so very difficult. Spending all day at home, tired, sore, lonely, and stir-crazy with this little paper-weight, I began to lose myself. When I got married, I lost a bit of “me” (giving up my last name was harder than I expected), and now I had given up my career and my actual body to someone else. Looking back, I think I was in the depths of Post-Partum Depression, though I hadn’t heard of it. We just called it the Baby Blues, and it would “pass” eventually. I had to find a way back to Amanda. So, when my husband came home from work in the evenings, I handed him our daughter, kissed him on the cheek, and basically ran out the door to the YMCA down the street. I just needed something physical to do that didn’t involve pleasing someone else (no nursing, holding, carrying, etc). Selfish? Probably. Life-saving? Definitely.
I didn’t even care what exercise class I took – if it was offered after 6:00, I was there. I tried spinning (definitely not for me), cardio-boxing (fun, but a bit aggressive for my taste), Jazzercise (I was the youngest in class by at least 30 years), and even weight-lifting (I got bored). Finally, I nervously rolled out an exercise mat in the very back corner of a yoga class. I had no idea what we were going to do – I wasn’t really looking to try out for Cirque-du-Soleil, and chanting in a foreign language just seemed weird. But, my teacher (I’ll always remember her) said my only job was to breathe. That’s it. Breathe and notice it in your body, moving in and out. So I did. I don’t think anything has ever felt as right. I’d been breathing my whole life, but I’d never befriended my breath. I know this sounds corny, but it was miraculous.
In that first class, I stumbled through some Sun Salutations, stretched muscles I didn’t even know I had, and ended in a savasana that, I’m not proud to admit, was spent wondering what I was supposed to be doing. Why are we just laying here? Shouldn’t we be doing something? But when my teacher rang the chime and I sat up, I felt “yoga drunk”. I was light, yet settled. I was energized, yet quiet. What just happened? And when can I do that again? I was hooked. An hour and half spent with my body, honoring its limits and celebrating its strength, and I found myself again. I went back, at least twice a week, for the next several years, sometimes dragging my skeptical husband and mother-in-law along (they both eventually loved it, too).
I practiced throughout my second pregnancy, too, sometimes standing on my head, and other times just resting in child’s pose. And while my son’s labor and delivery were just as painful and intense as my daughter’s, I was so much more present and calm than the first time. And I was able to step away from the internal sensations and exalt in the miracle that my body was, thanks to the focusing exercises and breathing practices I had used in Yoga. And as soon as I got the OK from my doctor, I was back in class, not to lose the baby weight (I have mostly lost that external drive for body perfection) but to again dig down and find my old friend, Amanda.
Fast-forward a decade and I haven’t quit searching for Amanda. I get glimpses of her sometimes and we high-five. Other times, I struggle to find the time to do a few cat/cow poses, let alone sit in quiet meditation for several minutes. But that’s fine. My Yoga has progressed off my mat and into my life. I work to be present in every moment, not just in balance postures. I practice inhaling prana and exhaling apana while sitting in the school’s car-circle. If I find myself squeezing my eyebrows or clenching my jaw, I purposely relax my face and take a deep breath. Yoga, quite literally, changed the course of my life. And for this, I am forever thankful to the people and situations that allowed me to find that little Yogi that lives inside all of us and whispers to us: You are whole. You are beautiful. You are bountiful.