When did the shift happen? Recently, my teacher asked me this question. And while I was able to confidently pinpoint a specific moment in time when the shift occurred, I realized that I needed to first give credence to the time before. The time before is a fuzzy haze. The time before is a deeply sad and painful time full of chaotic stressful events I absolutely could not control. The kind of events a person would not willingly or otherwise want to surrender control of to the universe. In the time before, I was about to graduate from college. These were happy and exciting days… days where my eyes were wide open and a whole world of possibility lay before me. Days of infinite wonder about all that I could do and all that I could become. But, without warning, those bright, sunshiny days went dark. The time before began with my father’s diagnosis of an aggressive cancer, shifting to the disintegration of my parents marriage, unconscionable betrayals by trusted friends, my sister’s diagnosis with her own cancer and the eventual death of my father. The stress of the time before was so intense… on my body, my mind and my spirit… so pervasive, it needed a way out. And so, it manifested itself in my body as an undiagnosed illness. The kind of illness that caused me to spike a dangerously high fever, knocked me in and out of consciousness, forced a significant amount of weight to be shed in a short period of time and landed me in the hospital for days so the doctors could poke at me in order to determine why my body was purging from every orifice. This illness threw me down. It stole my strength. It rendered me weak. I could not fight back.
During this time before, I craved relief. I needed to know what it felt like to breathe. I felt curiosity for this thing called yoga. I drove past the studio all the time… this studio so completely unassuming, the sign above the door simply said ‘yoga’. I had no real knowledge of yoga or of styles or the meaning of the Anusara sign that hung on the wall. So, one day I walked in and introduced myself to the person sitting behind the table. This person would become my first teacher and she would provide me with a beautiful foundation in the development of my practice over the years. This teacher embodied such a gentle, loving and kind soul. She possessed an unbridled quality of sensitivity that pulled me in and begged me to keep coming back for more of what yoga had to offer. That was 12 years ago. I remember first learning how to correctly sit on my zafu, how to stand in tadasana, learning the Anusara invocation and how to focus my drishti on a candle lit flame for beginning a meditation practice. I had discovered a safe haven from my painful surroundings… a reprieve from my descent into darkness and grief. In the time before, I felt committed to my practice. I went on weekend yoga retreats. I learned about Ayurveda. I practiced at home and I went to class religiously. But at some point, as the years went by and while life happened… graduate school, relationships and my teacher moving away, my yoga went on hiatus. Over the years, I would return to my mat, but I would not stay long…I did not stay mindful or present. There is so much brilliance and magnificence in the practice. It is difficult to understand why I drifted away… why the time before is blurred, save for a few details.
Then, a few years ago, I received a phone call from my present teacher. It was a call I desperately needed and am to this day so deeply appreciative of. I longed to return to my mat and it was as if she had heard and felt my yearning. And so, within a week, I had once again connected with my mat. At first, I was weak and embarrassed. I knew that it would take time to build up my strength again. I felt that familiar feeling of ananda… that bliss that only yoga can give me and so I kept coming to class. I got stronger. I learned asanas I had only seen super bendy yogis do. I breathed. It was intoxicating and it began to permeate every fiber of my being. I needed more. I wanted to try new styles and new teachers. I broadened my horizons and found endless joy in every new class I went to. Even if I did not like the style or teacher, I came away with something new learned. No matter where I went, however, I always returned to the studio where I began… the place that felt like home and the teachers who taught me to open my heart to grace.
And without warning, the time before melted into the present. The shift happened in October of last year. I had the opportunity to travel to Taos, New Mexico for a week long retreat with both of my teachers. It was an opportunity I would not pass up. Not only was I in dire need of a vacation, but I would have the chance to practice again with my first teacher. I would be completely immersed in yoga for 5 days. What I experienced in this week changed everything in my life. Emotions poured out of me. Stillness sat with me. I did not realize how long it had been since I had stopped… stopped my life, my current existence, the monotony of it all. In those moments, it was as though all of the past was washing away and my heart blossomed with the promise of a new life and a new journey. It was a catharsis of my soul. I could not get enough of the yoga. I was surrounded by people of all different faiths, but all sharing a common thread of loving-kindness, peace, connectedness, understanding and alignment in life and body. I do not think I understood what was happening to me at the time. I was in absolute heaven. I felt at ease participating in something that brought me joy and inner peace.
But, while all of this amazingness was going on, I began to have some anxiety. The kind of anxiety that doesn’t let you breathe. I tried. I took a walk. I struggled to run. I made an attempt to connect with the earth. I engaged my Ujjayi breathing. Nothing worked. The tears came. I could not stop. This went on for over an hour. Class was about to begin and I prayed to God that I would catch my breath and no one would notice me crawling out of my skin. And so, I sat on my mat and as my teachers began to talk, my heart rate began to slow down. The calm set in and I flowed through the practice as if nothing had happened. I was relieved. But, the anxiety did not stop there. The week was coming to a close and I did not want it to end. I did not want to return to my life… mostly, I did not want to return to my unsatisfying and stress induced job. While I felt completely stoned from the week’s experience, I suffered terribly inside. Whatever was awakening inside of me, whatever was brewing caused a week long panic. I would wake up thinking of yoga, but I couldn’t breathe. Yoga was the focus of calm. The panic would come and go in waves. I had no idea what or why this was happening to me. I can only guess that I was being cleansed from the inside out. And then, the panic just dissipated… what set in after… the happy… oh, the joy of the happy is like nothing I can explain… nothing I have ever experienced before. It was as if the world exploded in love all around me and all I could do was shine my happy on everyone. All of a sudden, everything was different. I was present and focused. I took everything in stride. My job no longer became important. The chains were broken. My heart was bursting with love, happiness and gratitude and I wanted to share it with everyone I loved. I began to eat, sleep, breathe and dream about yoga. As this shift continued, I knew that it was time for a deeper connection to the yoga and so I came to a decision to participate in the teacher training program this year. In less than a month, I will sit on my mat with my teachers before me. I’m ecstatic and filled with anticipation for all that I will learn.
Rumi says, ‘what you seek is seeking you.’ I am profoundly grateful for the call that initiated this change in my life. I sought a connection, a teacher, inspiration, a place of belonging and now because of my teacher, I am blessed with all of these things. I live with great passion and appreciation for the abundance of life’s beauty and offerings. The rediscovery and reconnection with yoga has truly been a gift. There is no reverse in the shift. I cannot look back. I know in my heart that yoga is a part of me now and will flow with me through this journey of life.