19 Years of Yoga

CAKEThis week marks the 19th anniversary of my first yoga practice. Looking back to that time, I was a strung-out-alcohol-soaked-snowboard-bum-artist in my senior year of college in Bozeman, Montana. My life looked fun, and in many ways it was, but my body was wrecked, my mental state was shot. Constantly on GO, I was mindless and wild. I was the classic case of “she had no idea how much pain she was in until she sat still for a few seconds”. This was the lesson learned in that first savasana. I was unaware then how profoundly the experience affected me or that henceforth I had embarked on the path of a seeker… for life.

That night on the mat, I remember experiencing an expansion of body, mind, and breath like never before. I felt light, clear, centered, confident, completely supported, full of purpose, and mindful. I was hooked… married to yoga from that moment.

My yoga and my life-context have always existed in parallel relationship. My 20’s and early 30’s needed the discipline of practice and intense application of alignment that Iyengar Yoga provided. It literally saved my life. Over the course of several years of uninterrupted daily practice, I became a perfectionist on the mat, which eventually evolved into a constantly forced practice causing me physical pain, anxiety, fatigue, and dullness. I justified my continuation of such strict practice by attaching some kind of personal merit to it. Let’s just say, it did not make me a better person or a better yogi.

In my later 30’s as my practice veered away from balance, I became more and more disconnected from my Self. I was conscious of wanting to live a more authentic, integrated life fueled by my heart’s true calling… which, in reality, I was nowhere near. I now realize that I was using my practice and long hours on the mat as a way to escape and ignore the scary choices I needed to face for personal growth and happiness to occur. My (mis)interpretation and embodiment of yoga was contributing to my ‘stuck-ness’ and oppression.

One of the first Sanskrit words I ever learned was ‘kaivalya’… which translates as liberation. The other day, in conversation with a friend, it surfaced that for as long as I can remember I have been trying to free myself from one prison or another… destructive behaviors, bad habits, poor choices, body pain, mental agony, unhealthy relationships, over-consumption, etc. … I never imagined that my yoga practice would need a serious overhaul in liberation. But alas, it did.

Kaivalya interceded, and saved me from myself again. At a certain point at the end of 2012 I simply surrendered to my body’s call for mercy and my heart’s call to go out and enjoy people, places, food, dancing, culture, and the world. It’s been two years since I closed my beloved little Yoga Birds studio in Fairhope, AL and set out on adventures off the mat landing me back in New Orleans. Since then my practice has taken on an entirely new ‘look’ and not so surprisingly so have I. Family members tease me saying that I have emerged from my ‘yoga cave’. I have indeed mellowed out. I am enjoying life and work. I feel lighter. I laugh more.

I do still hook up with my mat regularly. But it is more casual and fun, although no less important and vital. I have let myself off the hook for a ‘never-miss-a-day’ pursuit of perfectionism in posture. My practice has expanded into a sloshy, rich gumbo of Iyengar, Astanga, Therapeutic, and Pilates methodologies, mixed with harmonium playing, seated meditation, and best of all… long daily walks with the dogs.

My teacher Leslie Kaminoff says that yoga is a perpetual process of patterning and re-patterning behaviors. He is so right. What was good for me at 24 needed to shift to be good for me at 40. Apropos to any 19 year old, I have given my yoga practice space to become what it is meant to be for me now, at this stage of my life. We have grown up together. And we will grow old together…. gracefully.

A friend for life, yoga practice continues to support my awakening to the reality of the present moment, being content with what is, and coming into compassion for all sentient beings. All the while when practicing with honesty and integrity, yoga never fails to arrive bearing the gifts of peace of mind, peace of body, peace of spirit, and ultimately liberation.

May we all be free!