I started doing Yoga around four years ago, I believe. By this, I mean, I started practicing the Western form of Yoga that most are familiar with today. This is the Yoga known mostly as Hatha Yoga, a form that exercises the body through poses and controlled breathing. I did this with my sister at a class through the gym we were going to at the time. I was at the point in my health journey where I just wanted to lose weight, as I was a fairly heavy child from years of a lack of mindful eating.
So my sister and I decided to go to a Yoga class, and I'll be honest, when I first went it was mostly because I saw the videos and pictures of slim, toned women holding perfect asanas (Yoga poses.) I wanted that: a flat belly and slim legs. Hell, I would have been fine just the smile they all seemed to have plastered on their faces. The first class was a whole lot of realization. The realization that I was not nearly a strong as I had once assumed I could be. For example, downward facing dog is meant to be an active resting pose, but for me that first time, it was hyperactive. I remember my arms shaking more than they ever had and looking beside me to see yogis with calm, closed eyes, breathing deeply when I had to keep reminding myself to breath. I remember looking down at the heels of my feet and being pissed at no end that I couldn't force them to be flat on the floor. I felt completely and utterly weak.
The most important realization came at the end though, during a pose known as shavasana, or corpse pose. It isn't as horrific as it sounds, in fact, it's quite peaceful. All you do is laying down and relax your body completely. Luckily for my sister and I, we had a wonderful teacher. During this time, she was turn off the music and spoke to everyone in a calm tone. She would walk to each person and sprinkle lavender scented something over us (I never really knew what it was because my eyes were closed.) She asked us to take note of an intention we should set, she reminded us all of our strength and personal journey. Finally, she told us to let go. Shavasana isn't just about relaxing your body after a workout, it is about rewarding your mind and soul for the effort you put in to your life, your mind, and your body. It is a time to still your busy mind from all the constant thoughts that force it to jump through hoop after hoop. It is pure stillness.
My sister and I left the workout studio and were silent for a while, still caught in the momentary high. When we finally did look at each other directly, we burst out laughing because the obvious existence of this weird state of mind was so foreign to us. "We have to go again." my sister said. So we did. Then I also took up a home practice and before long, I was introduced to the Eastern form of Yoga which is so much more than just an exercise for the body.
I am not a perfect yogi, and I don't believe there really is a perfect yogi out there. Although, during my practice over the past four years, I have taken away from it many lessons. Here are just a few:
Growth: Yoga has something in it from everyone. More than that, I believe it could hold everything in it for everyone. If you practice yoga, I don't think it matters the intention you have going in, you will come out of it changed in some way. It only continues to change you as well because each time you go into it to grow towards the expanding intentions you set as a base for it. No matter what Yoga you practice, the whole point of it is to grow. Even Bhakti Yoga is labeled as a form of Yoga even though it has nothing to do with asana shapes. This is because Bhakti Yoga is building a relationship with the Divine through practicing love for everything in the universe. Love just for the sake of love. It could be considered an exercise of my heart, it is a practice.
Beauty: Instagram yoga is not the point. The longing for that picture perfect body with its picture perfect poses and smiles is no longer the end goal for me. If it happens, great. If not, I'm still happy. The beauty is where you are right now. The highest moments of euphoria I feel during practice are the moments where everything falls away and I'm stuck in this state that is just existing. I know. It's sounds like I've had too much green tea today, but it's the only way I can describe it. When I can see the fat on my stomach or stretch marks and say to them "hello, friends," I am reminded of how fond they are to me. Through embracing the beauty that is right now, I've learned to love my body how it is and use that love as fuel to grow into a healthier, more authentic human being. Instead of my previous mentality of hating how my body looked and using that hatred as fuel to beat my body into submission.
Perseverance: Just because you aren't where you want to be right now does not mean you never will be. Some days will inevitably be harder than others. Some days I feel like I'm doing angry Yoga. I'm not some kind of peaceful monk in the Himalayan mountains. I'm a seventeen year old girl from Western Pennsylvania who just finished class and has to go to work in an hour. That's the point though, where you are right now is just that; right now. When I started incorporating a head stand practice, the thought crossed my mind that I would never have enough upper body strength to pull my feet up into the air. I'm still not there yet, but I'm making progress. I've learned that it's a good idea to really live in the moment where that thought crosses your mind because then you can really live in the moment where you finally defy gravity. I know this because when I got my heels to touch the floor, I was filled with this gratitude for every moment I could not. Every part of the journey is a teacher, and though it may be discouraging sometimes, the only way to keep learning to to never give up.
Peace: Embrace the silence. Yoga is a bridge, much like meditation, for connecting your ego to the soul. I truly believe that. When one spends hours in Yoga with herself, and only herself, free from mindless distraction, the truth is not withheld. All you really have to do is listen. Be still in your mind and open to what every thoughts way enter and exit your noisy mind. Before long, I noticed that my thoughts were just like songs on replay and I learned the see them from a third person point of view. This is because, at the time, I felt like emotions and thoughts were out of my control. I tried to take a step back and watch them fly through my head. What did they say? How did I react to thinking them? Many of them were products of years spent on autopilot, just a recurring monologue I played for myself that really had no truth in reality to them. Things like "Mindy, you'll never get better." When I indeed was. And some of them were thoughts that had been waiting to be heard, waiting for me to listen. Examples are "I love the way your hair curls up at the end." or "You are safe in here. I am not your enemy." When you can identify the voice in your head, you can change it to whatever you want it to be.
I chose to befriend myself recently. I chose peace.