Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance yoga has played in my physical and spiritual well-being. Besides my relationships with my family, yoga has been one of my longest and most empowering relationships in my life. It has seen me through the ups and the downs of high school, the stress of college, the intensity of my eating disorder and my recovery and rediscovery of a more balanced lifestyle.
It has provided the mat upon which I’ve cried, sweat, screamed, laughed and have pretty much experienced every emotion under the sun. It has been my friend, my confidante and my spiritual healer. It has, quite simply, changed my life.
But let’s back up to the beginning to where my yoga story began…
I took my first yoga class in my sophomore year of high school. I had recently gotten a gym membership and decided to try out some of their classes. Having never been an athlete (in the conventional sense), I was drawn to the flexibility of yoga (a gift I’ve been blessed with) and its emphasis on balance. I pretended it wasn’t my first class and just played along when Cindy – my first ever yoga instructor- said things like “warrior one” and “down dog”. I winged my way through the whole class until I found myself laying on my back during shavasana and experiencing what had to have been the most euphoric sensation DURING a fitness class. I was sold.
Every Saturday morning I attended Cindy’s class and began what would turn out to be a very long and tumultuous relationship with yoga.
Up until college I had only ever done Hatha Yoga, which emphasizes holding poses for longer rather than flowing quickly through each.
But when I joined my college gym in my freshman year, I got cocky and signed up for a 16-week, twice-a-week Vinyasa Flow class. I went in thinking I’d be totally fine having done yoga for 2.5 years, but I was definitely in for a rude awakening. After the first week I couldn’t move my arms. I’d never done so many sun salutations in an hour. But my body quickly adapted and before I knew it, Vinyasa Yoga was totally my thing.
I continued to do this type of yoga throughout my college years. To be honest, I viewed yoga solely within the frame of exercise, but anyone whose been practicing for a long time knows that it is so much more. At this point in my life, faster, harder, stronger was my main goal. Pushing my body to its limits, doing the highest intensity of each pose was the name of the game for me. I truly did not understand why anyone would sign-up for a restorative yoga class. Wasn’t yoga supposed to make you sweat?
Then everything changed.
A few years after college I badly injured my knee (and subsequently my leg and back) while running on a treadmill. This was the height of my exercise addiction and at this point was using yoga as an “active rest day”. Keep in mind my active rest day meant doing a 90 minute vinyasa flow in the heat. But as with anyone who has ever injured themselves knows, discovering that your body is not superhuman is an incredibly humbling experience.
While tackling my injuries in PT, my therapist suggested I try out yoga to help heal my body and reduce my physical and mental stress. I tried to explain to her that my body couldn’t handle it when she reminded me that yoga doesn’t always have to be extreme. She suggested I try a gentle hatha class or restorative class to increase mobility without overburdening my body.
This is when I discovered the world of online yoga. I started rolling out my mat at home and letting my body guide my practice. If I couldn’t perform something, I took a variation. I slowed down, I listened and in the process really connected to the spiritual side of yoga that in turn helped soothe my body and soul.
Fast forward to now, and yoga remains a constant in my life. I know it sounds so cliche but I always feel safe when I’m on the mat. Yoga was my entry into the intuitive living movement. Rolling out my mat gave me permission to listen to my body, and subsequently I began listening to it even when I wasn’t doing yoga.
I discovered what it meant to be in-tune with how you are feeling instead of pushing it further down into the depths of your head and your heart. I forgave myself for the things I couldn’t do and accepted that it isn’t always the time and place to do the things that you can. Sometimes the greatest challenge is slowing down and listening.
I occasionally like going to classes to pick up on the energy of the room, but more often than not, I practice at home or outside. Sometimes I follow a youtube video or podcast and other times I just put on my yoga playlist and flow. Sometimes it’s fast, sometimes its slow. Sometimes it’s vinyasa and sometimes it’s restorative.
But each time I step on the mat I’m reminded of where I started and where I am now. I still can’t do a handstand or fully extend my legs in boat pose, but I know how to listen to my body which is not something I could have said or done when I first walked into Cindy’s class in 2005. My yoga story has many chapters and like most things in life, it will continue to take many twists and turns as I figure out its place in my future. I can’t wait to see what the next chapter brings!
One of my pet peeves when it comes to yoga is clothing that looks cute but isn’t functional. I’m so happy to be teaming up with Athleta on this post as their clothing is not only cute but also comfortable. There’s nothing worse than going into a down dog and worrying that your crack is hanging out (you know you’ve all been there…)! I love their Powervita fabric line, which allows me to move my body in whatever way it wants while keeping everything in place, but also transition into other areas of my life where I want to be comfortable. I’ve been wearing Athleta for years and I honestly cannot recommend their workout wear enough for whatever activity you choose – yoga and beyond!
Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Athleta. All opinions expressed are 100% my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that help make THM possible!
What’s your yoga story? What’s your movement of choice?
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