Reflections From a Modern American Yogi...
Thinking of trying Yoga? Have you been reading about the benefits and wonder if it could help what ails you? Are you unsure of where to begin, who to ask, what classes to take? This is written for anybody who doesn’t know why they are practicing yoga, whether or not they should try it, or anyone somewhere along their journey that’s looking to relate. Let me tell you a bit about where I’m coming from…
I don’t go into things lightly. That is to say, when I’m passionate about something, I’m dedicated, immersed, and reflective all the way. When I am not passionate about something, it takes a back seat to things that are move compelling and intriguing to me. So, I know when something sticks, it’s the real deal. For me and yoga, it was a ‘love at first sight’ story. This was almost twenty years ago now, so I’d say it’s a relationship intended to last. Fast forward to today and I am able to reflect on the effect yoga has had on my life and the evolutions my relationship with yoga has gone through. I notice it in my thoughts, I hear it in the way that I speak, I see it in my present day relationships and decisions.
It began... when I was a high school student in Janesville with a very troubled home life. Being surrounded by negativity and abuse prompted me to seek insight through books and personal inquiry. I began reading poetry from the public library in search of something that would move, comfort, and inspire me through difficult and lonely times. I came upon The Tao Te Ching and The Dhammapada, both Eastern Philosophy texts that speak about values and perception in a way that struck a deep chord in me. At the same time, I began practicing sun salutations along to Yoga DVDs, which allowed me to strengthen my body and calm my mind. Most importantly for me at the time, I learned about concentrating on my breath and body in a delicate, meaningful, and a non-competitive way, becoming more in tune with my feelings and what to do about them. There was a feeling that can best be summed up as, ‘yes!’ Unknowingly, all parts of me knew I was learning something universal and pure as the language was comforting and non-judgmental, and it provoked thought that allowed me to look deep within myself and the world through a lens of curiosity and openness. It was a profound relief from the drama and darkness of being a teenager, losing a parent, and feeling I couldn't relate to anybody. Of course at that time, I did not know all of this was happening for me, I just knew it gave me a personal outlet for exercising and contemplating in a way that resonated with the deeper aspects of myself. I also wasn’t in a position to express it outwardly at the time, so it was my personal solace that I had no idea was going to turn into a path, a lifestyle, and my livelihood.
When I committed... to practicing with teachers and found a ‘home studio’ in 2010, I was very timid and lacked confidence. I was blessed to have many knowledgeable and compassionate instructors who showed me what it felt like to be accepted and appreciated in my social awkwardness and developmental confusion. I learned the value of Conscious Community and the influence it has on how I form relationships. Being continually exposed to other people who’ve felt that same chord struck by the practice and language of yoga offered a more honest awareness of my thoughts, feelings, perceptions, beliefs, and actions. I began noticing that I thought more positively about myself, others, and even my struggles. I learned to re-interpret problems into challenges that I could rise to instead of run from or get angry at.
I learned I am strong.
Up on the mountain… is where it all solidified into a lifestyle practice. Where I completed my month long 200 hour yoga teacher training, I later went back to live for a year. Imagine a community of academic hippies on a mountain surrounded by redwood trees who welcome one and all to transform and heal through the energy of the land, the wisdom of the teachings, hard work, and unconditional acceptance. Sanskrit was in our daily conversations, I ate a vegetarian, whole food diet, and I began confronting a lot of my darkness. Surrounded by other people who left the noise behind to stay firm on the path of yoga offered an immersion into yoga as a lifestyle, a marriage, through thick and thin. I realized that I don’t have to apply force for something to work out, sometimes it isn’t meant to. I discovered that I don’t have to feed into gossip, I can have one hundred percent of my conversations without ever talking negatively about another person. I came to believe that I don’t have to settle for a situation that feels unhealthy, I could leave that job, relationship, or negative self-talk behind for the new unknown.
I realized that happiness is an inside job and there is nothing wrong with me.
‘Teach To Learn’... were the parting words from my teacher and Guru, Baba Hari Dass, as I inquired about how to honor and respect the traditions and lineage of Classical Raja yoga as a relatively uninformed, white, American young person. He simply responded, ‘teach to learn.’ This contemplation is so important because I have a strong sense of responsibility to promote and propagate the teachings of yoga wisely and consciously. Since becoming a yoga studio owner, it has been an increasingly frequent question I ask myself. It has also been a recent source of richness in all aspects of my life - ‘How do I express myself, my thoughts, ideas, personality, with as much authenticity, openness, and respect as I can?’ That is what sharing yoga teaches me. I am continuously humbled by the opportunity to have walked the path I have and to be able to share the acceptance, wisdom, perceptiveness that has been shown to me.
I continue to learn that freedom of expression requires acceptance of others expressing themselves freely, wherever they are on their journey.
Here we are today… where I’ve revolved back to my hometown and yoga plays an integral role in my personal health, well being, relationships, and livelihood. I use asana (physical postures) to restore balance in my body with increased circulation, relieve tension in joints and muscles, burn and sweat physical impurities, and feel that strength I so longed for in my youth. I use philosophy to clarify my values, wisely interpret situations, and to stimulate my intellect in positive and healthy ways. I use breath and meditation to land softly and dwell in the more real present moment, and to gain even greater insight into myself. I use humor to connect purely and add levity to life. I use teaching to help others find this relief from physical pain and tension, to find new ways of thinking, and to raise the collective vibration so we can get through these shared struggles with the knowing that we are indeed one.
You don’t have to know that all of this is happening, but it very well could be.
I hope to see you on and off the mat soon…
“Work honestly, Meditate Everyday, Meet People Without Fear, and Play.”
~ Baba Hari Dass
(The divine light in me honors the divine light in you)
Breathe owner and instructor