Oh I don’t think I would be very good at yoga; I am not flexible. I smile and hope to encourage you to give it a try. I say, You don’t need to be flexible, you are already “good” just showing up for yoga practice. The results in overall well-being are worth the effort. I do not mention the most profound aspects. – the things that might scare you, blindspots you will discover, or the patience you will cultivate. This post marks my 20th year of yoga practice. This is to thank my teachers, to share my story, what I view as the most important benefits of yoga, and advice for barriers to getting started.
Can’t you see
there’s a part of me that’s brand new?
Used to be was a part of me felt like hidin’
But now it comes thru– Jim James, My Morning Jacket’s “Knot Comes Loose”
Library of Me
Prior to yoga, running was my 1st love. I took my first yoga class on a lunch break with several co-workers. It was a free class at the Fulton County Public Library, the Peachtree Branch in downtown Atlanta. The 45-minute class was fun, a welcomed slow down for me. I was under an incredible amount of personal stress at the time and in denial about it. My way of coping was to “soldier on”, just keep marching, keep running. It was several years before time on the mat eventually replaced running as a means for me to feel strong. I did not realize it then, but the start of my yoga practice was the catalyst for subtle and powerful inner work.
A few years later soon after a divorce, I had an experience which left me with a concrete understanding of the direct relationship between my emotional\mental health and my body. Near the end of my first vigorous vinyasa class in Pensacola, Florida, with Nancy LaNasa at the Avery Center, we went into a supported shoulder stand. There were warm sonic surroundings of harmonium and Sanskrit lyrics of Krishna Das’ Mere Gurudev. I felt a deep sensation between my belly button & my heart, like a knot coming loose. I was upside down so this melting knot dropped down the center line of my body, through my chest and my throat. For 5 minutes in that pose a steady stream of tears poured down the sides of my face. Fortunately this was not violent audible sobbing. Grief, self-forgiveness. A pool of tears formed along with self-acceptance, bodily relief. Years of stress, pent up anguish. I had done the best that I could & it was enough. I was plenty good enough. I understood that nothing was lost, that the gifts & lessons from that relationship would reveal themselves.
Nancy’s classes had & still have a really strong community vibe. Nancy always stood by the door and spoke with students as they left class. I hung out afterwards and thanked her. I told her about what happened. She re-assured me that this was not uncommon. Yeah, for awhile when I first started doing yoga, every time I went into a wheel pose (backbend) I would lose my stuff and start crying. That sort of thing can scare people away. From there onward I became serious about yoga & about having fun. 🙂 I began to feel like myself again. As my brother would say, I got my shine back.
Connection – community, compassion for yourself & fellow humans.
The effort you put in on your mat alone & together (with all these people) produces a “flow state“. As you become more comfortable in your own skin, you become more compassionate towards all of life, more honest with yourself. A gazillion opportunities unfold from trusting yourself & your intuition. One silly tangible outcome of my becoming comfortable using my voice in OMs and Sanskrit chants at the beginning is that I began more freely expressing my affection. For example, I started singing happy birthday into your voicemail or your ear if you happen to pickup. I did not care that I was off key, only that I reminded you that I care about you. We are only here for a short while, so I wanted you to know that you matter.
Strength – learn to use a diverse set of tools for challenges on any front: physical, emotional, mental.
You learn to to find your edges, to get comfortable being uncomfortable. You learn that you are capable of things you never thought possible. You learn to pay attention to your breath & how to use it in and outside of class. You become more attuned to what is going on between your ears and what your body is telling you. You start to notice things that are said and not said. You learn to feel your feelings and to let go of things that no longer serve you. You learn to laugh at yourself. You recognize your inherent resilience.
Encouragement for Starters
What if I don’t feel comfortable in a group setting?
Explore doyogawithme.com. Seek out semi-private, smaller classes or private instruction.
Maybe you tried it once & didn’t like it.
You will need to try several different qualified instructors before you find one whose style is right for you. The instructor touched me & it was no bueno. I hear you. Verbal guidance for adjustments ought to suffice. In my experience it is rare for an instructor to touch students. I was once caught off-guard and an unfamiliar instructor made a pretty drastic unsolicited adjustment which left me with a messed up hamstring for 3 months. Do not hesitate to put your hand up or wave them off if they reach for you without asking first.
It is too late for me to start.
Not so, I know plenty of folks who started as seniors & have been happy with results. I know practitioners with chronic conditions. Whatever your situation, there is an instruction path that is uniquely suited for you. Listen to this podcast [less than 5 minutes], an interview with Matthew Sanford, “innovator of adaptive yoga for people with disabilities, veterans, young women with anorexia. ” Below are my favorite lines where he refers to the body’s grace.
your body, for as long as it possibly can, will be faithful to living…
the places you don’t feel in you are graceful. They’re not lost. They’re not absent. They’re part of your strength, of your fiber. In a piece of wood, it’s not just the grains of wood, it’s the empty space and spaces between the grains of wood that make it strong. It’s both. And so the world gets lighter and easier when you include more of yourself here.
…My body does not heal as well as it used to when I was 13. That’s true. My physical body doesn’t do it. But because of the compassion I can feel for my body, for others, something else is healing.
Thank you to these magical people in order of stage appearance:
- Eddie Ramirez, our fitness fanatic manager, for getting the team to go to yoga on our lunch break & for my parting gift of “The Alchemist.”
- Nancy LaNasa for lighting my yoga path, for the yoga community you created in Pensacola, for showing me that “All Life is Yoga.”
- Rebecca Cohen for Integrative yoga therapy for me & my loved ones.
- Muriel Duncan for reminding me that less is more.