I wasn’t an active child, preferring instead to have my hands on a book or a hot buttered roll rather than any kind of sports equipment. My parents never pushed sports either. So, absent the typical parental pressure, I happily spent hours of my childhood on my bed, with a book in my hand, and Peter Frampton turned up full volume on my headphones. With the exception of a rare energetic period of a few years in my late 20s, this trend continued through adulthood. Physical activity was not my friend. Food was. And books. And through high school and college – pot. Neither of these three other loves lent themselves to great physical exertion.
It’s not that I didn’t try. In a life-long struggle with my weight, I always maintained a gym membership and had periodic interest in many group fitness trends through the years – step aerobics, jazzercise, kickboxing, Body for Life strength training – but I never became committed to anything. With the exception of the strength training, I attended most of these activities for the music – not the movement. Nothing ever became essential to my life. I envied the people who had this. Those that started the day with a run or scheduled their weekends around the local 40 km road cycling event. Who were these people? And how did they get like that?
Yoga came the closest. It was one of the group exercise classes that I occasionally attended and I even had a couple of favorite yoga DVDs that I did quite regularly. Indeed, from the first moment, I felt a connection to yoga that I had not ever had to any other type of physical activity before – but it still wasn’t a part of my daily life. It wasn’t something that I couldn’t live without. Like food. Or books. Or Grey’s Anatomy.
The year I turned 49 and quickly saw 50 approaching, something shifted. At 49, I suddenly looked up from my life and realized things had gotten way out of control. At least all those other years, I had good intentions. I had tried. But I had not even tried for the past five years or so. No restrictions on what I ate. No attempts to join a gym or try the latest fitness craze. No yoga – not even DVDs! Nada. Nothing. Zippo. My body ached. My soul was a wasteland. I couldn’t even get up from sitting in a chair without limping from the pain in my joints. My spirit felt non-existent. I did not! want to spend the second half of my life the way I’d spent the first. So, as one of my favorite book titles reads, “she got up off the couch”… and I ... I stepped through the doors of a yoga studio.
When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.
I started out slowly with a few gentle classes and felt the old connection immediately. I felt myself getting stronger with each class I attended and soon craved more challenge. I decided to try a more advanced class.
When the student is really ready – THE teacher will appear. And boy did she ever!
My first true yoga class left me a sobbing puddle on the ground. Spent both physically and emotionally – I had never felt more alive. Through her soulful practices, my first teacher allowed me to see what my long neglected body was truly capable of and allowed me to feel compassion for what it was still working on. These practices, this teacher, at that precise time in my life was a gift from the universe and forever cemented yoga in my life.
Still…cautious of my old habits creeping back, I did not trust myself to maintain a practice on my own. So I consistently and joyously practiced at this yoga studio for almost 3 years. Not fully believing in myself, I was suspected that my commitment was tied to the methods of this particular teacher. I remembered her telling me one day that she “would not be my teacher forever”. “Yoga doesn’t work that way”. I felt like screaming “blasphemy!” – under no circumstances could I picture being as committed to my yoga practice without her as a teacher. Well, she was right. As my personal yoga practice grew, I began exploring other styles in an effort to expand my knowledge of yoga as a whole. Some I liked and some I didn’t but I began to understand what she must have been talking about those months ago when she first spoke those blasphemous words.
Through the course of changes in both our lives, I began practicing with another teacher whom I came to love almost as equally. My second teacher taught me the joy of chanting and the sweetness of slowing things down to savor the beauty of the body and spirit working as one. With our household preparing for a major move to another state, the thing I dreaded most was leaving this yoga practice. I felt I had only touched the surface of what I could learn from this teacher. When I said goodbye I told her I hoped I found someone as good as her in my new city. And she replied, “I hope you find someone better”. Spoken like a true yogi.
So I was on my own now. I had only a slight fear of abandoning my practice and slipping back into my old ways but I couldn’t be entirely sure. 49 years of past history left me cautionary. But I wasn’t connecting to any of the local classes that I tried in my new city so I continued working on my own. I had nearly convinced myself that this solitary yoga practice done in the glorious sunshine of my private patio was all I needed.
But I forgot about the teacher…
Looking back now, I believe my resistance to returning to a group yoga practice was actually fear. Fear of something new. Fear of the unknown. Fear of leaving my comfort zone. So much had recently changed in our lives – retirement, new house, new city – I think I just wanted the familiar. While I am skilled enough to put together my own practice, I know I don’t push myself. I do what’s comforting. What feels good. What I know I can handle. But deep down I knew the truth. I knew finding another teacher was needed. For that is what a good teacher does – pushes you out of your comfort zone. Makes you work on the things you hate, which are more likely than not, the things you need the most.
When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.
And so my search began. The search itself was enlightening. If I hadn’t started searching, I wouldn’t have tried Qi-Gong. Qi-Gong is a form of gentle exercise composed of repetitive harmonized movements designed to loosen and limber the joints and ligaments and build awareness of how the body moves through space. It also involves a lot of touching yourself. Oh, not the Seinfeld “Master of Your Domain” kind of touching yourself but an invigorating body tapping that begins every class and is designed to move chi through the body. The classes that I tried took place at sunrise on the beach. It was lovely and every class ended with everyone hugging each other. One of the regular students told me the hugging practice was started for the majority of elderly that attend for whom this may be the only touch of the day that they receive. Heartbreaking. Beautiful. In the end, it was too slow a practice for me but I retained the body tapping…and the hugging!
If I hadn’t started the search for a new teacher, I also wouldn’t have discovered the JapJi meditation heard in a Kundalini Yoga class that I tried. Though I had done Kundalini breathing practices before, I had never experienced a full kriya class which is a series of postures, breath, and sound that work toward a specific outcome of your being. Practices often include beautiful chanting – one of which was the JapJi. The kriya practice was not for me either but the JapJi meditation and the hauntingly beautiful devotional music of Snatum Kaur remains engrained in my soul.
I have no doubt I was meant to encounter these things in my search and ultimately the Kundalini class lead me to find my third teacher. Though I didn’t connect to the Kundalini practice, I did connect to that teacher and following her to one of the other studios where she teaches allowed me to find my new yoga hOMe. I thought I was set. I had finally found a new teacher. I was ready to start being challenged again. I was ready to be another puddle on the floor.
Then, the ultimate teacher named Life showed up. Life brought an unexpected surgery that threatened to derail all of my progress with a projected 6 to 8 week recovery to include no exercise of any kind. Not even yoga.
No yoga! I couldn’t fathom it! Without my even realizing, yoga had become a part of my daily life. Like food. Like books. It was something that I couldn’t live without!
I’ll be honest. I was more frightened of not being able to do yoga for two months then I was the actual surgery or accompanying recovery. I saw my pre-50s life come hurtling back. In my head, I was already again that slug on the couch. I know, and any true yoga practitioner knows, yoga is about more than the physical movement. But still…. Thankfully, gratefully – I was spared. In the end, a less invasive surgery was able to be performed which has cut the recovery period to 4 weeks rather than 8. No actual yoga class for a month, but stretching and gentle movements can be worked back in as early as 2 weeks.
Thank you Universe!
So here I am at two weeks. Moving gently. Gratefully. Humbly. Solitary. Again my own teacher but with a whole new perspective. I know now without a doubt that yoga is an essential part of my life. Never to be forsaken. I am committed. For yoga is more than the physical practice. It’s a mindset. It’s a gift. The practice of yoga is its own teacher and I am happy to be its life long student.
Live the life you have imagined.