It's funny, in the nine year history of this blog, I've written (exhaustively) about exercise: the exercise I do, don't do, and did but quit doing. I've rarely written about yoga, which has been a consistent, significant part of my life for almost twenty years. This is my story of yoga.
Like many people, I came to yoga from a place of trauma. I lived in New York in 2001 and after the events of September 11, saw a doctor for anxiety. She gave me two choices: medication or yoga. Knowing nothing about anti-depressants and a lot about exercise, I went with yoga. My gym (shout-out, Bally Total Fitness!) offered yoga on Saturdays, so I started going.
Yoga in 2001 was not what it is in 2017. Yoga wasn't cool, and there was no industry pushing $120 lycra pants. In fact, I remember going to Herald Square and buying bootcut stretch pants from the Jennifer Lopez 'J.Lo for Macy's' collection to wear to class.
At twenty-five years old, I was the youngest person in class. There was a tai chi class beforehand and the only thing that changed between classes was the addition of the yoga instructor and me. But I loved my class, and I loved my instructor. She wore all black and a bunch of scarves. She was older, rounder, and had a Jewish-Stevie-Nicks vibe. I knew she liked me by the same way I knew all New Yorkers liked me, she let me be in her presence and occasionally engaged me.
Jewish-Stevie-Nicks taught me yoga. Either yoga marketing didn't exist yet, or I didn't know enough to pay attention, but I don't know what style of yoga I did. I do know that she didn't teach from the front of the class, but moved around, observing and adjusting us. And I know she was a good instructor because in all these years, while I've needed adjustments, I've never needed corrections. I was taught the poses correctly.
I took that yoga class every Saturday for the next year and a half. When I moved home, I joined the YMCA and started taking classes there. Around 2010, lululemon opened a store in Nashville and set about getting to know the local yoga community. They highlighted a different yoga studio a month and you could practice there for $20-$30. It was great! It was my year of The Traveling Yoga Pants.
I have a love-hate relationship with lululemon, but I'll give them this, they brought yoga back into my life. I started supplementing my yoga classes at the Y with one to two classes a week at a studio. My yoga practice was consistent again; my mind was calmer. Plus, I was learning new poses and getting stronger in old ones.
This is a comfortable place for the story to end for a lot of people. But I am not a lot of people. Like all good relationships, there is a cycle of rupture and repair. At this point in the story, my relationship with yoga ruptured. It ruptured when the owner of the studio I was practicing in told me she noticed I was gaining weight and suggested I sign up for this expensive 30-day juice cleanse she was promoting.
Do I need to point out all the things wrong with this? I'm going to assume I don't. But what I will tell you is how I felt when she said that: shame. Shame for being apparently noticeably fat (which I wasn't); shame for not being able to afford the juice cleanse; shame for not being good enough for that studio. I can't remember if I finished out my package, or quit that day, but I never returned to that studio.
I floundered around, trying different studios and going back to the ones I liked: Sanctuary and Steadfast and True. And then this new studio opened that all of my friends were going to, so I started going there. I love a trend and this studio was H-O-T (I mean popular, I don't have the constitution for hot yoga). This studio was fiiiiiiiiine. It was affordable, convenient, all my friends were there, it was sometimes crowded, but it was fine. And then.... I was in one of their crowded 6am classes and realized that everyone in there was competing with each another. The women would go into poses the rest of the class wasn't in. It was bizarre and destabilizing. You can't get centered when you're mat-to-mat in triangle pose and the woman beside you flips upside down. Also? I saw a lot of labia because they were all in shorty shorts and sports bras. Which brings me to my other point...
Whether intentionally or not, this studio fostered a community where "skinny" was the goal. That's a triggering, unhealthy environment for me. The shame started creeping back in. Shame for not being "skinny", shame for not buying their goddamn juice cleanse, shame for not being able to afford their TRIPS TO ITALY. I left and never returned.
It was around this time that I lost my job and went back to doing yoga at the Y, unable to afford classes at a studio. My
Happy ending alert!
I responded to Paige's class like I responded to yoga back in 2001, which is to say I was welcomed and calmed. Paige's class was healing for me during a time when I needed healing, both physically and emotionally. About six months in, the studio downsized and consolidated their classes and I had to switch instructors. Paige recommended I try Rachel - I did, and it's been eye heart emojis ever since.
In the sixteen years I've been practicing yoga, I've done it for a variety of reasons - anxiety, fitness, injury rehab - but above everything else, I've done it to quiet my mind. I don't practice yoga to show people how good I am at it, or because it comes in a package deal with my juice cleanse, and I don't do it to lose weight. I practice yoga because I love it, it feeds me in a way nothing else does. It's where I've learned vulnerability and trust, and Paige and Rachel have played a large role in that.
Iyengar yoga is my jam. I've been practicing at 12South Yoga since 2014. I would love for all my friends to start practicing there. FYI - Rachel (my instructor) also teaches at Steadfast and True Yoga if you want more schedule/location options.
See you on the mat! Namaste, bitches.
*Photos courtesy of Rachel Mathenia
P.S. I've written poetic, eloquent posts about yoga in the past, posts like A Plea For Panties, and Archie Bunker Goes To Yoga. Enjoy!
P.P.S. You can read more about my experience in NYC here.