Four years ago, my husband and son asked what I would like for Mother’s Day, and I said I would like them to take a yoga class with me. Little did I know that that class would start me on a new and transformative journey. A journey that continues and will continue, because yoga is not a 75-minute class but an ongoing exploration of oneself and the peace one can find and share.
After our family class at what was then Baptiste Yoga, I was hooked. Oddly, as a former dancer and a Pilates instructor and practitioner, I had only taken a handful of yoga classes, and none had resonated or called me back. This Mother’s Day gift class did beckon me after the class was long over, and I eagerly heeded its call. I started to practice once, twice then three times a week. By this time, I was practicing at Down Under Yoga. One day, a flyer for the 200-hour teacher training caught my attention. Perhaps because of my dance background and the desire to understand movement anatomically and technically, I decided to enroll in the intensive training in September 2017.
I began the training convinced I didn’t want to teach yoga; I wanted to learn. I had already begun to feel how powerful absolute focus is in yoga, and I wanted to take that feeling as far as I could. In addition to improving my asana, I wanted my knowledge of the history and philosophy of yoga to expand as well. I was also curious as to the meaning of “take my practice off the mat.” This was a phrase that I heard often repeated, but what did it mean? The amazing lead teachers of the training, and the many guest teachers and lecturers, thoroughly taught the poses — we often left sore and happily exhausted — but they also offered opportunities for discussion and moments of meditation. I had never meditated; I didn’t think I could because it is hard for me to stop moving my body let alone my mind. But like any physical practice, meditation is a practice and one I have adopted. I’m not always successful, and I often have to call my thoughts back to the moment, but there is something very powerful in stopping, sitting, breathing, and yes, quieting the mind.
It wasn’t anyone discussion but the accumulation of many discussions, many voices, that led me to start understanding what it means to take my practice off the mat. Despite my predilection for perfection, I am learning to let go and take chances without an expectation of success — abhyasa vairagya. Acceptance brings peace. Peace is tied to kindness - kindness towards oneself and ultimately, kindness towards others.
Breathing is such an important piece of finding the balance between effort and quiet, sthira and sukha and quality over quantity. Although I have always paired movement with breath, I found it different when practicing yoga. I ride the breath like a wave and try to open from deep within with each exhale then lift to the top of the wave with each inhale. When my body tires during class or my mind wanders while meditating, I return to my breath. When I am in the throes of everyday life — annoyed, disappointed, frustrated — I can now choose to return to my wave, my breath.
After completing my 200-hour training, I find myself pondering why am I practicing and what do I want to do with my practice? The opportunity to practice is a gift. By practicing regularly, I continue to open my body, mind, and ultimately heart, so I can serve others. And this is what I have chosen to do with yoga. I have started to teach with Hands to Heart Center and the Prison Yoga Project, so I can present the gift that was given to me to others who may not be so fortunate. It has been a transformative journey, and I am thankful for the wonderful teachers and community I found at Down Under Yoga.