Dedicated to the very first person I ever saw practice yoga asana... and no, I don't normally practice yoga in the nude.
Several years ago during a yoga teacher training, our group was asked to share their very first time they ever heard of, seen, or practiced yoga.
I immediately recalled the very first time I was exposed to yoga. However, at the time I was asked to share this experience, my crippling shyness prevented me from sharing the whole story. Instead, I awkwardly rushed through, editing out parts that I thought best to leave out and in the end bumbled the whole tale. Well here it is yogis... I hope you enjoy!
Many years ago when I was in college, living in San Francisco, I had a good friend who lived in an alternative clothing household. We both lived out in the outer sunset, right by the beach within a few blocks of each other.
At that time, since my friend's apartment was closer to the N-Judah line, I would usually go to her place to pick her up on our way out to our adventures in the city. Visiting her at her place was always a different experience every time. Most of the time her roommates would be gone however on occasion, I would be faced with moments of awkwardly averting my gaze while her roomies chatted nonchalantly with me a la NUDE.
There was one time however that has imprinted itself to memory. On one particular sunny Saturday afternoon my girlfriend was having a bout of indecisiveness about what to wear. Sensing that this was going to take a while, I decided to wait out in the sun lit living room to enjoy the warmth. Thinking that the apartment was empty, I settled myself comfortably on the sofa and started to peruse the bookshelf for something to read. After a few minutes however, a door opened and in came her roommate, sauntering into the living room with his yoga mat ready for his daily practice. And yes... he was not wearing a lick of clothing.
At that point in my life I had never heard of yoga and had no idea what he was doing. I sat, frozen in my seat and not sure what would be the appropriate thing to do as he rolled out his yoga mat. After making eye contact and a subtle nod to him, I returned to focus all of my concentration on the book shelf next to the sofa, pretending that whatever was on it was of GREAT interest.
There were a few books on yoga on the shelf and I decided to grab one and start perusing it, relieved to find something to stick my nose into. I don't recall the title of the book that I grabbed, however I do recall being amazed at the beauty and grace of the yogi featured in black and white photos on each page.
Then I began to hear my friend's roommate breathing. I felt that the walls were beginning to close in and that there was not quite enough space between me and this lithe, breathing body moving up and down on his mat, warming up with sun salutes.
I shifted uncomfortably in my seat, doing my best to not to outright stare and scrape my jaw off the floor. I tried to place the book directly in front of my face so as to not be rude but then thought that I must have looked funny holding the book a few inches in front of my nose. I set the book down in my lap, and in little snippets I would peek over at him move through standing postures, warrior stances and at some point a beautiful dancers pose, both arms over head touching his toes, sweat glistening and pouring from his body. I was literally almost falling off of the sofa at this point, when thankfully my girlfriend came in the room beaming and waving at me that she was ready to go.
We headed out and I remember breathing in a huge gulp of fresh air, not realizing that I was holding my breath. My girlfriend chirped happily telling me about her roomie and his yoga practice and I just nodded, still dizzy from the energy and the power of what I just experienced. When we finally stepped onto the train the experience began to already leak itself out of my mind but it sat there like a little seedling in waiting.
It wasn't until 5 years that had passed from this experience and the birth of both my children that I decided to step onto the mat. The very first yoga class that I attended was a Bikram class. Yes, I know, those of you who want to snicker, go ahead, do.
After buckets full of sweat and thoughts of "I'm not ever going to make it out of this class alive," the incredible sense of well being that I experienced in savasana was like coming home to myself. For the first time, my mind felt clear and I felt a sense of peace. The shift I felt from that very first class brought me back to the mat and from there the little seedling began to sprout.
I practiced Bikram for a few months and then studied Iyengar and Flow at Darshana Yoga for 4 years. From there, I began to expand my yoga horizons and experimented with various classes and teachers in the Bay Area. I learned a lot about myself along the way, and no matter the different systems I tried, I always learned something new. There was always the root of self study present whether it was Bikram, Iyengar, Yin or Flow.
The journey has brought me now to practice Mysore style Ashtanga yoga and this system is what is most appropriate for me at this current juncture in my life. I don't say I practice Ashtanga and it is the best system for everybody. It doesn't matter which tradition or system speaks best to you, it is all yoga. Do the practice that calls to you, that resonates with you. Life is ever changing, what may have resonated with you in the past will have a different vibration in the now. There is no best style or system, the best is what continues to nourish your own self study and transformation. Everyone is different, what works for one does not apply to the other, we are always evolving, like the breath, dynamic, never static.
If you had asked me 15 years ago while I was sitting in that San Francisco living room, that later in on life I would immerse myself in the study of yoga, I probably would not have believed it.
Since then the yoga practice helped me find my voice, it has helped me through the darkest times of my life - surviving an anxiety disorder that gripped me for years. It helped me find strength during a divorce, a marriage that I did not manage to exit with much grace. It helped me grapple with life's failures and showed me the way to become a better mother to my children. It is a journey that I hope to continue on for many years.
Do you recall the very first time you ever heard of yoga or perhaps experienced a class? When was the moment that you drew you to the practice?
Looking forward to your comments, please feel free to share them!
With much love and gratitude,