Friday, January 18, 2008

Day 167

Today, as I was moving through the Primary Series, breath by breath, pose by pose, feeling warm and light, bathed by the sunbeams streaming in the window, I had this thought: “There is nothing else I would rather be doing in this moment. Nothing.” And it was true. I don't always feel this way when I practice, but lately, that's how I've been feeling. Getting to the mat can be a chore, but once I'm there, I'm content. And afterward, I feel whole and happy.

Yesterday in the comments, Michelle asked what kind of yoga I used to practice, whether I preferred Ashtanga and what yoga system I find more fulfilling. This is timely question because this topic has been on my mind recently.

I came to yoga almost 13 years ago via Patricia Walden's 'Yoga Practice for Beginners' video, which I found in the bargain bin at Best Buy. At the time, I had just walked away from a short-term contract as a field archaeologist because I was in too much pain to continue. I was 26 years old and I was in constant, chronic pain. Some of it was physical, some of it was emotional.

I had a lot of time on my hands, so I tried the yoga tape. And I hated it. I couldn't do any of the things on that tape very well, and many of them seemed impossible (like forward bends, and I clearly remember Virabhadrasana II being particularly challenging). It's a mystery to me why I kept doing yoga, sometimes every day. It reminds me a lot of that episode of Star Trek in which Data has been given an emotion chip. He finds a new drink repulsive, but drinks it again and again, saying “Yes!!! I hate this!” (and then asks for more).

(and can I just digress wildly for a moment here and add that it took me only ONE SEARCH on YouTube to find this Star Trek clip that I remembered clearly from years ago? Thank you, Internet!)

The clip I'm referring to starts at 00:46...

I persevered. I kept doing yoga and yoga got easier. My back started feeling better. In fact, my entire body started feeling better. But here's the thing: the more yoga I did, the more everything around me started to look different. I realised that I hated being in debt. I hated my job. I regretted going for my MA. I hated where I was living. I deeply regretted my marriage (Yes, I was married. To a man.)

My whole life felt wrong. Slowly, bit by bit, it all began to unravel. I had changed.

I got out of the marriage, handled my own divorce and came to terms with my sexual orientation (I'm gay - I had known this since I was 13, but I was living out a 'normal life', in a desperate bid for my parents' approval). The divorce itself was a big thing but it was even bigger for me. I researched the laws at the library and wrote up the forms myself, dealt with the legal system and all the obstacles thrown in my path. For the first time, I started managing my own finances. I found my own apartment. Although I has been on my own since I was 17, I had never had my own space.

For years, I had been hiding. I had rarely spoken up for myself. I was a follower and I followed well. Then, all of a sudden, I was doing these breathtakingly brave things. I was taking care of myself. I had been brave before, but I don't think I had ever much considered what I really wanted or needed, let alone pondered the novel concept that I had a right to demand those things in my life.

Four years after starting a regular yoga practice, I was divorced, living on my own in an entirely different country, in a city which I loved, supported by a wide network of loving friends, participating in hobbies I was passionate about, in love with a complicated but lovely woman and on the verge of paying off my student loan debts with the six figure income of my new career. I was still doing yoga and though my life was a work-in-progress (I hated my job), I was evolving, instead of just taking up space.

So you can understand why I have a very difficult time hurling any kind of criticism whatsoever at any yoga system. From where I stand now, I think they're all golden. Iyengar-based Hatha Yoga is miraculous to me because it launched me into this new life. The classical Hatha Yoga my teacher H taught to me is precious because it was my first experience with joining a class and being part of a yoga community. My teacher M (who, for many years, I detested) introduced me to both Ashtanga (which, for many years, I detested) and Anusara. Both Anusara and M himself continue to challenge me. Ashtanga has become my home yoga practice.

When the student is ready, the teacher comes. Yoga has been my teacher. Every yoga system that I have encountered had lessons to teach me. I'm grateful for those lessons. The Ashtanga yoga system, which I've been doing as my home practice over the past 8 months, is a bit like that drink that Data couldn't stop himself from trying again and again. It has challenged me in new ways, made me stronger and given me the structure I need at this particular time in my life to develop and remain committed to a home yoga practice.

Right now, I find my yoga practice - both asana and meditation - deeply fulfilling. Yoga has become the thing that sustains me. Right now, Ashtanga yoga is the vehicle for my own personal transformation. I can only hope that as I continue to evolve, yoga will continue to challenge me to evolve.

Today: Full primary series in the mid-morning, because I slept in a bit. I had a deep and focused practice and everything felt very smooth and 'easy'. I enjoyed two amazing handstands. The idea of doing a handstand away from the wall is becoming increasingly plausible. I bound in Supta Kurmasana without effort, leaving me to wonder if this may be my latest breakthrough in this practice. I happily held headstand for 3 minutes. My 15 minute meditation sessions are feeling less onerous.


Michelle said...

Thanks for you response to my question and also for your "biography". You sure seem to have it all together at this point in your life. I envy you for that.

Sarah said...

Thanks for sharing. I hope Yoga can help me find a wholeness within my life like it has obviously done for you.

sarah xx

Yogamum said...

Thank you for sharing that story! How wonderful to feel that you are doing exactly what you want to do.

Cara said...

Powerfully written. Thanks for sharing it. Namaste.

Sofia said...

Your story resonated so much with me. Thanks for sharing.

Kaivalya said...

Thanks for all your wonderful comments.

I had a moment of hesitation before I hit the 'post' button on that entry, because it was so deeply personal. But if I've learned anything from this blog, it's that there's power in sharing the stories of our experiences.

If my words inspire just one person to take up yoga practice, it adds another dimension of meaning to my own journey as a yoga practitioner and teacher.

Again, thanks :-)

rand(om) bites said...

Oh hon, thank you for sharing something so personal. You really are an amazing woman and I love the way you write about your experiences. It sounds like you had a tough few years but getting honest with yourself has made all the difference. More power to you! x