I think it’s about time for me to tell a little bit of my story and my journey with yoga.
I started doing yoga when I was a teenager, to help my dance training. I was always a little behind the rest of my dance classmates when it came to technique, and I saw in yoga a practice that increased strength, flexibility, and balance. Well, those are three pretty good things to improve for your dance technique! I jumped right in.
Unable to afford yoga studios (although I’m not even sure if there were all that many yoga studios in my suburban town at that time), I bought a videotape of a 30 minute yoga practice and did it almost every day. It was awesome – I loved holding the poses, getting the stretch and the strength. I learned things about aligning my body that I had never learned in dance class. And, since I was doing it at home, I didn’t have to be embarrassed about my level of flexibility. In fact, my family was usually impressed by how far I was stretching so I got a bit of an ego boost from it.
I kept going like this for years. I developed a basic routine that was a mixture of yoga and dance exercises that took about 1-1.5 hours that I did almost every evening during university while watching TV (usually The Daily Show and The Colbert Report). Every once and a while I would take another class at school or elsewhere adding whatever I learned to my home practice.
A wonderful thing happened throughout my years of mindless yoga practice, in front of the TV in my living room, before I embraced a single thing about mindfulness in practice or breath work: my body moved from being an enemy to an ally.
You see, throughout all my years of struggling with nailing dance technique (something that did, in fact, improve with my yoga practice), I learned to blame my body for my shortcomings: any trouble I had in a ballet class was the fault of my stupid body. When my legs didn’t lift as high as the others in develope, when I stumbled through a pirouette, struggled to get into the splits, or fell out of a long-held arabesque, I cursed my frustrating, useless body for the things I couldn’t do.
The thing is, I was no better at yoga than I was at dancing. In fact, with yoga there’s probably even more I can’t do. The difference is that in yoga, that’s the whole point. The goal isn’t to master a pose, but to work on a pose. It’s not to show off how flexible you are but to feel where your limitations are. Somewhere along the line, I managed to embrace this notion without even realizing it. I grew to love the tight feeling in the back of my legs when I do my first forward bend of the morning and can barely reach the ground. I learned to laugh when I fell out of tree pose and to appreciate the beauty of a body in perfect alignment over a body that’s launched itself farther into a pose. I learned to work with my body instead of fighting against it.
That is when I truly began to fall in love with yoga.