Those who know me know that my journey into yoga started very late in life. While I had always had an interest in yoga, I usually ended up feeling disheartened whenever I’d venture to an actual class. Time after time, I’d find myself in the same chaotic environment: a room full of sweaty people jumping through the poses at lightning speed while an instructor stood at the front of the room, barking out the moves like a drill sergeant! Leaving the studio after these experiences, I’d wind up feeling uneasy with the same thought plaguing me the whole journey home: “Well, that was not what I expected...”
So, What Exactly Did I Expect?
Even before I was actively engaged in a yoga practice, I had an intuitive imagining of what yoga represents. With just a little bit of research, this gut feeling was validated. Yoga is not just about powering through a series of asanas; it is also about breathing in a way that leads to stillness in the mind. When there is stillness within, we are able to connect to both our authentic self and the Divine.
In that way, the practice of yoga becomes a journey of self-discovery, awareness, and personal growth. If we can use yoga as more than just a means of focusing on the strength of our bodies—and if we are willing to be a conscious observer of what is happening in and around our lives—then maybe we can achieve Nirvana (a perfect state of happiness) and Moksha (freedom). With these commitments, we are well on our way to releasing our internal suffering and finding peace.
Of course, while the idea of being freed from suffering and achieving inner peace is certainly attractive, I still had to decide for myself what my personal WHY for practicing yoga would be! So, I sat down, thought long and hard, and asked myself: “What is it about practicing yoga that resonates with me?” The message I received was simple, yet elegant—and it was right within the question itself: “W.H.Y. - What Heals You?”
Simply put, my WHY—the thing that profoundly heals me—is being of service to others. Looking at my life from the “big picture” perspective, it’s clear that becoming a beacon of light and encouraging others to do so as well is the reason I get up in the morning and show up in the world. So, how can I do that best? Through yoga!
Transformation through Yoga Teacher Training
My commitment to yoga began six years ago when I was going through my yoga teacher training. It wasn’t my plan at the time to become a yoga teacher; rather, I was taking the classes with the intention of better understanding yogi culture.
During that training, I fell in love with yoga from a meditative and spiritual perspective. Once I was able to separate the physical practice from those elements and to worry less about what each posture looked like, I could finally leave myself to sit in the asanas and feel. I could connect with the sound of my breath. Once I had learned to breathe, the shift began—both on and off the mat. I began to experience subtle changes in myself in my daily life.
I did not even realize there were major shifts taking place, too, until friends and family began to comment on how different I seemed: calmer, less reactive, more patient. I had become a listener, not a fixer. My life had changed completely. In finally noticing my own personal growth from the space of awareness, I was able to step out of my body and become a neutral observer. That is when I knew my mission was to become a yoga teacher and to help others discover their WHY.
A Different Kind of Yoga
“Yoga” derives from the Sanskrit root “yuj,” which means “to unite” or “to yoke.” When we practice yoga with a spiritual—rather than just physical—purpose in mind, we participate in the unification—or the yoking together—of mind, body, and soul.
According to the Yoga Sutras, yoga involves eight “limbs” or philosophies—all paths which, when followed, lead to a purpose-driven life. Two of these limbs are Yama, the standards and code of ethics by which we conduct ourselves, and Niyama, our spiritual practices and self-discipline. While the Yamas deal more with moral restraints (like kindness, truthfulness, nonviolence, nonstealing, moderation, and generosity), the Nyamas are more personal observances (like purity, contentment, austerity, self-study and surrender). These limbs mark the beginning of self-study.
When we are in observation of these eight limbs, we begin to see the WHY of yoga. It is when we begin to look at ourselves from a different perspective and allow ourselves to surrender that we begin to see changes in the mind, body, and spirit.
As a yoga teacher, it is my vision to teach classes that offer my students the opportunity to begin the journey of surrender. My classes will always include a breath awareness exercise connected to movement, allowing for space to sit in or hold a posture and, thus, facilitating the integration of the yogic journey.
Pranayama, or breath work, is the key to stilling and quieting the mind; it is also the fuel which powers the physical practice. In times of stress, I find that I can drop back and breathe myself into a place of stillness and focus. I am able to surrender to what is without judgment; I can release the need for control. The fact is that if we can remove ourselves from the restraints of the physical body, we enable ourselves to move into a different kind of yoga experience.
My Invitation to You
At the end of the day, I am human— and being human means that this is a journey I will be on for the rest of my life. Yoga is not a magic pill and not a cure all. It is a practice, and just like the word suggests, we have to do it repeatedly and with dedication to see results.
If you have never tried yoga, my invitation to you is to give it a shot! Let go of the excuses— “I am not flexible enough,” “I am to old,” “I have a bad back,” etc. Understand that yoga is not about touching your toes… It is about what you learn on the way down!
If you have been practicing for a while and have not found your WHY, then my invitation to you is this: change the way you think about your practice. Move beyond wanting to sweat, bounce around, and transition through as many poses as you can squeeze in. Allow yourself to become that neutral observer. Bring awareness to the personal growth that is happening within you and around you. Embrace the W.H.Y. of What Heals You and find your Samadhi, your Nirvana, your focus, your bliss. Just Breathe!