My yoga journey began in Solana Beach, California during May of 2003. I had chosen to take up the practice as a mode of sports therapy––to increase flexibility, and unwind my muscles that had become ropy from long distance running.
Little did I know that upon entering the dimly lit and sparse studio I was about to experience more than a good stretch. My then, Type-A self was about to be met with Types B through Z in less time than it takes to say, Namaste.
Todd was the epitome of what I understood Ashtanga instructors to be––formulaic, concise, free of fluff. There were no pleasantries exchanged. We did not receive a warm hello or gracious greeting…we just began.
We moved quickly through Sun A and Sun B salutations, and advanced modifications that dominoed me through the personality alphabet real fast. I cursed my body for being stiff, and the instructor for seeming to lack any ounce of soul.
I could not access my drishti (a focal point for sustained and concentrated gazing), and balance was simply not an option. Melodic and movement-matched ujjayi (audible rhythmic breath) accompanied every posture of the real yogis in the room. Not me. My breath resembled the sound of someone hyperventilating, because I was.
Just ten minutes in I was not trying to catch my breath. Rather, I did everything in my power to gather it from the soaking wet mat beneath me––the place it had escaped to when keeping it under control was no longer plausible.
When we advanced to backbends, the unfathomably flexible girl in front of me arched backwards from samasthitihi (standing at attention) to feather her palms on the floor behind her. Our eye contact was as brief as it was awkward as she made her way down.
In that moment, I was struck with wonder and fierce insecurity. I thought, I could have sworn I signed up for the Ashtanga primary series. Indeed I had, but ‘Primary’ did not mean amateur, beginner, or introductory as I had assumed. Primary in Ashtanga is the first of many sequences that are either self-guided or taught in a Led class––what I had signed up for.
I did my best to move, albeit awkwardly, through every remaining posture, until we came to savasana (corpse pose.) During those last few moments of class, I rested supine with legs and arms spread out to my sides, and eyes closed and burning from the sweat that was pooling in their sockets.
I was overheated, exhausted, and more than anything, humbled.
Instead of drifting off to a sandy beach in my mind, I could only think of how defeated I felt…how imperfect every movement of mine had been. I was shocked at how laborious the 90-minute class was despite my near effortless ability to run for two hours or more, and cycle for half a day. Every ounce of me felt small, fragile, and out of place.
In silence, we wiped the sweat from our faces, and rolled up our mats. One-by-one, we left the room. One-by-one, we re-entered the world outside.
Prior to visiting the studio, I had made plans to go for chips, guacamole, and tequila following class––a way of celebrating trying something new.
When I arrived home, my head and heart swirled with conflicted emotions. I was frustrated at that fact I could not bend like an al dente noodle, yet felt a sense of accomplishment like never before. It was different than a ‘win the race’ kind of accomplishment. This feeling was cellular. It was visceral. It required no outside cheering or praise.
It was as if the inward most part of me was licking its lips, saying mmm…mmm…mmm, that was challenging on every level, yet I was stronger for it.
Making my way to bed that night I was entranced in deep humility. My vulnerabilities had been strewn about on a sheet of thin rubber, and now in the quiet of the night, I was left pondering my practice that was far from perfect.
My sensibilities told me I would never perfect the practice of yoga. Somehow I knew it wasn’t about achieving perfection. Unlike sprinting in a race to win, I would never be able to sprint my way into a backbend. I would never be able to force a handstand. I would never be able to win the race of yoga, because there isn’t one to win.
The very next day I signed up for another class, then again the day after, and the one after that.
For two years, I practiced Ashtanga at that studio before moving onto other studios and different styles of yoga. After ten years of humbly stepping my feet onto the mat, I chose to become a certified yoga instructor, not because it was a dream of mine to teach, but rather I wanted to more deeply understand the true essence of yoga.
After years of study and practice, what I have discovered is quite simple. Yoga is life. It is every breath, every accomplishment, every challenge, and every victory we experience.
Yoga is the will to learn and progress. It is incremental improvement, and the celebration of life’s small wins among those we believe to bigger and more meaningful.
Throughout the years, on and off the mat, my practice of yoga has improved, but has never been perfected. What I have come to understand and deeply value, is that it never will. There is no end in sight and that is okay because as is the case with all of life, progress is the point.