When I first started practicing yoga, it was all about the physical. I had retired my pom poms as a Seattle Seahawks cheerleader and felt like a washed-up gym rat stuck in a hamster wheel every time I walked through the doors of LA Fitness. Simultaneously going through a breakup with my first serious boyfriend, it was time for a change. A big one. I decided to give hot yoga a try, for the third time. And it’s true, third time’s a charm.
The first time I tried hot yoga I was about fourteen years old. I hated it. I went to a class with my dance teacher and her daughter and remember walking out of that hot room after what felt like the longest ten minutes of my life. I thought, “never again!” I went to another hot yoga class with some fellow Sea Gals years later. Still wasn’t feelin’ it. Walked out after ten minutes.
The third time I tried hot yoga was at a Bikram studio – the classic 26 postures in the method of Bikram Choudhury, a 90-minute sequence designed to increase balance and flexibility as two sets of each posture are held 30 seconds to one minute each. I had met a friend there, which always helps in the realm of motivation. And a miracle happened. I made it through the ENTIRE class without leaving the room. I was immediately inspired to use my “New Student” 10-day pass to the fullest extent… so I went to class ten days in a row. But I wasn’t done. I was on a mission. 30 classes in 30 days. A personal challenge. And I did it. It was like the doors to heaven opened above me and the angels came down and enveloped me in their golden feathers. Well, not really. Lol. But it was a start. An amazing start to a beautiful journey of self-discovery that has grown & transformed into one of the things I cherish most about Life. My yoga practice. It found me. It tried and tried and didn’t give up… and I am so very grateful for its perseverance.
The coolest thing about yoga is that it’s just a PRACTICE. It is not a skill to master, nor is it a competition. It’s a practice because we are never done… we are always learning, always growing. There is always somewhere new to go with our physical body – in the form of asana, or posture – which is a direct invitation to explore our emotional, mental, & spiritual body as well. All we have to do is remain open & willing to take a look within. Our yoga mat becomes a no-bullshit place where we have the opportunity to look at ourselves honestly, let go of things that aren’t serving us, choose positivity, & set powerful intentions for our day & our life.
I had NO idea any of this stuff was possible when I first started practicing at that Bikram studio. I was just looking for a new way to burn a ton of calories, keep my physique in bangin’ shape, and feel good. After practicing the Bikram method for a few months, I decided to branch out and try a different studio that offered Hatha (similar to Bikram) and Power Vinyasa yoga (a faster paced style where movement and breath are connected in a flow, with focus on upper body & core strength). I immediately fell in love with vinyasa yoga… it is so much like a dance as movement and breath work together, and with my dance background, this resonated deep in my soul. It wasn’t long after this that I cancelled my gym membership and found myself practicing everyday. I was in the best shape of my life.
At this point something amazing started happening. I didn’t realize it right away, but the passing of time has a beautiful way of giving us perspective on things. I developed a greater awareness of my physical body & my monkey brain, which was always thinking and very hard to turn off. I became aware of the thoughts rolling around in my head. The negative self-talk. The feelings of not being good enough. By taking one hour each day to shut my mouth, focus only on my breath, & strengthen my body, I got to know myself a little better, one practice at a time. Only through this beautiful awareness was I able to start on an honest journey to self-love.
I became a certified yoga instructor soon after falling in love with my practice, and started teaching right away. The joy of leading a room full of yogis is something I cannot explain. The way I see it, I can only keep what I have by giving it away… I consider teaching the highest honor I could possibly have… the opportunity to help others find their own inner peace through the simple practice of yoga. To develop the most incredible strength of body, mind, & spirit that literally has the ability to carry a person through the hardest of times & the happiest of times. We must always be grateful.
Being pregnant has brought a whole new perspective to my yoga, and in turn, my teaching. I have gained 50 pounds and have never felt sexier in my entire life. Who would have thought? At first it was extremely difficult for me to work with the changes in my body. I felt fat, unattractive, & hesitant to practice yoga at all because I was so conditioned to practicing intense power yoga — always challenging myself, working on advanced postures. I felt like I couldn’t do anything. I boycotted my yoga mat for a good month. Well, that just wasn’t workin’ for me after a while. I felt like a huge ball of shit and eventually decided to end my pity party.
So I threw my mat down & started leaning into the discomfort. I started embracing an extremely relaxed, modified practice. I threw out the silly idea in my head that a “practice” needed to be at least one hour. I put on some kickass music. And I just started doing what felt good. Not what I thought I “should” do in a practice. Lots of hip openers, meditation, & funky new variations of classic postures. I just let my body move to the music. I was shocked at the awesome things I was coming up with, it was like something else was working through me. I found my creative energy soaring through the roof… my entire being full of possibility. Surrender is a beautiful thing. I became stoked to share what I was doing… I even had an opportunity to during a class I taught when I went back to Seattle recently. It was a blast! Something incredible has happened since I have started doing this regularly at home, three to four times per week. A home practice. Something I have always wanted but struggled to develop, until now.
Once again, yoga found me. And I am so grateful. The reason I go to the mat now is completely different than when I started five years ago. Now I go to the mat to check in with myself… to remind myself I am beautiful, strong, & that I am enough. I go to the mat when I need a creativity boost, when I feel anxious, when I feel tired, sad, happy, pissed off, whatever. For me, it’s not about the physical anymore… it’s about keeping myself grounded & my heart open. A hot bod just so happens to be one of the killer “symptoms” of practicing yoga… along with the fact that it’s virtually impossible to eat poorly because of the awareness that comes along with being a yogi. Amen.
Practicing yoga is magic. One thing I can promise you… is that you will never finish a practice and think, “I wish I wouldn’t have done that.” So, give yourself the gift of lifelong health & happiness by making your yoga mat your best friend.
Photo Credit: Jami West Photography