The first time I did yoga, I was a blue-haired, angsty middle-schooler who happened to find her way to a yoga class at a local teen center. It wasn’t intentional, I just had nowhere else to go after school that day. One of my childhood friends at that time, urged me to try it with him, probably out of sheer boredom- not an interest in yoga. It was just the two of us, and a gentle but powerful woman whose name I wish I remembered that convinced us to take her class. I have no idea what poses we did, no memory of her cueing, or how long it might have lasted. What I do remember is the feeling of the rug underneath us, the dim lighting of the room, the angles of her face, and her smile. I did not come prepared, I came present. I had no mat, no yoga pants, probably not even water. I simply arrived as I was: in my black jeans, after midnight blue shade of Manic Panic hair, and a confused, sad heart needing to rebel even if it met being one of the only two kids at the teen center that was willing to try yoga.
I barely remember how we ended up in that room, or how we got to savasana, but I will never forget the sensation of rising up from our mat. A wonderful yoga instructor and soul sister of mine, Sarah Huntington, calls this phoenix pose; the ascent from savasana. Otherwise known as the I-feel-like-I-have-been-reborn feeling that you only find in a class once in a blue moon. It comes from the kind of class that teachers can’t package, or fabricate, but a silent overflowing of healing from the instructor to the students through nothing other than authenticity and grace. It was the kind of class that I only now understand twelve years later as certified yoga teacher. After that class, we sat there wide-eyed in awe of the palpable shift of energy in us, cross legged on the carpet of a teen center movie room, and asked her if it was true that monks can airbend. Still, I didn’t take another yoga class for at least five years.
I wish I could say that class was how I found yoga, but the truth is that the journey is a lot more messy and lengthy that one would expect from a thirteen year old girl transformed by stretching and meditating on her teen center’s carpeted floor. I spent high school and the beginning of college ridden with anxiety, struggling with a long-term toxic relationship, grieving the losses of close friends, doubting my self-worth, and all the other messy, transformative parts of life. Towards the end of my first year of college, in a crumbling relationship, I decided that yoga might help me be less “moody” and cope with the inordinate amount of stress I was facing for a nineteen year old. Yes, the true reason I found this practice was because I thought it would help a terrible relationship. Ironically, I came to yoga to heal a broken relationship, and realize today, only five years later that yoga healed me.
I tell my friends to go to yoga all the time- it’s one of those yoga industry jokes, that yoga is the answer for any ailment. Sort of like the windex is in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, yoga is to life. In all seriousness, I know that telling people to go to yoga is pretty much an oxymoron, because they have to embark on this journey themselves, maybe spontaneously, but mostly when the time is right. I found yoga at the same time that I decided to get my degree in creative writing, because my body, mind, and soul were craving only the clearest forms of authentic expression. It just seemed natural that those two would collide together. Yoga did not just help me build strength physically, but it transformed my inner landscape. It helped me navigate the anxiety, bitterness, stress, and grief that was built up from my past, it helped me move away from toxicity in my life. It allowed me to find all the sweetness that my life has offered me now.I am not a life-is-all-rainbows-and-butterflies kind of person. I believe in the grittiness of life- I know there’s another side of life that can be tumultuous and dark. However, I also know that we must constantly strive to grow towards the light- to find hope. I know that the hardest things in life are also the most transformative. They steer you towards growth, allow you to shed the past, rise to the present, and manifest a more positive future. They are the reason why we rise from savasana to face another day; to wake as the phoenix.
If I could find that first yoga instructor now, I would thank for the gift she gave me of that memory. For some reason, it took me all those years later , sitting in my old apartment, depressed and frustrated to say to myself “I think I’m going to yoga”. She planted a seed in my soul that I found only in some of the darkest moments of my life. Her presence that day is what allowed me many moons later to begin the practice that helped me to grow towards that light. And just like that, we may never know what the universe has in store for us, but have a special way of being right where we need to be.