When I first came to yoga it was about 1998, give or take 6 months, and I was about 19 years old. I remember so vividly the karate dojo where we practiced. My first teacher, Julie, rented the space, as there were no yoga studios in Raleigh, NC then. It was kind of dingy, but tidy and it had light blue carpet on the floor. I used to wear pajama pants and t-shirts and not think twice about it. I mainly practiced along side people who were at least twice my age, Iron man triathletes and in general under-the-radar bad asses. Well, let me back up a little to say that while that is how I remember them, I was in college and there may be a bit of romanticism in that description, as it took me several years to get my head on straight and realize that yoga was what I was looking for all along in all of those crazy things I did back then that muddied my awareness. Anyway, back to the story. Julie introduced me to breath, bandha and drishti. She taught and showed me patience and balance and kindness. It was a glorious time. The period of my first falling in love with the practice.
One thing I don't really remember from back in those days is how I felt about my body in relationship to my yoga practice. I don't have the typical "yoga body" and never did. Even before there was such a thing. I mean, in general, I've always been body conscious and hyper aware of my weight and size, especially how it relates to exercise and sports, but yoga was a little different, especially back then. It was truly about mindfulness, not sport, and certainly not about image or celebrity. NOBODY had leggings on and nobody cared. We moved and breathed and delved deep into the experience of our bodies, all from inside, gasp...- baggy pants!
From Raleigh I moved to New York City in 2000, and began practicing at a dance studio and at some yoga specific studios, as yoga was beginning to have a bit more popularity, and also I was out of the deep south and in a generally more progressive place. I purchased a few more yoga-specific items to wear (though even then, that wasn't nearly the thing it is today), and began the comparison game with all of the "serious" yogis and dancers that I newly practiced along side. This was a heady time. I was learning in leaps and bounds. My practice was progressing steadily and it was ah-mazing! But the self-conscious teenager inside of me was beginning to get very uncomfortable in a world that I'd felt pretty good in, so far.
As I moved around the country and practiced in more and more places and with more varied teachers, time also marched on and yoga developed into a full-blown industry, with merchandise, large-scale events, social media, celebrities and "a look". I also got pregnant, had a baby and worked my ass of to not-really get back to what my body was before the baby, because, well, chocolate and wine. Hashtag SorryNotSorry. And now yoga is only recognizable to me when I get on the mat, but really only then. Not when I go to a popular class at a hip studio. Not when I open Instagram (though I can't lie, I like IG and yoga on IG. I find it beautiful and inspiring. By the way - @alexalexmo. But not the yoga that I knew, exactly). Not when I go to a store and look at the slippery yoga pants (that I have lots of, because they are "the uniform", and people need to see your body as you demo - but I sure as hell had a panic attack upon wearing leggings the first time to teach in public).
Listen, I understand that sometimes people balk the first time they come to my class. I know because I can see the skepticism in their eyes. I can't lie, there is a part of me that loves to break all those stereotypes in about 10 minutes, and gain the confidence of a skeptic. Maybe it's even better because I had to earn it the hard way and almost nobody walked in assuming that the class would be challenging or teach something new. I know I don't look like many of the teachers at the local power yoga studio. And it takes a bit of composure to push that out of my mind and to face people in public... wearing leggings. It's a very weird progression to have both grown into this self-consciousness and also grown accustomed to it and able to roll with it, and through it all at once, but that is what happened. I went from not even understanding my body, to finding a deep admiration for it through this practice, and with the advent of the yoga machine (imagine that spoken by James Earl Jones...in the Grand Canyon) also coming back to insecurities that I thought I'd figured out long ago. But, I also keep coming back to my confidence in my practice, and in knowing that when I get on my mat, nothing but self-discovery arises. It isn't always in the form of joy, but I do learn something, or learn to trust in my body and the process of a mindful practice a bit more each time. I know that when I stand up to share my practice with the people who show up to practice with me, that there is something of value there to convey. And I am confident that something in my teaching, somewhere in my life experience, is a thing that someone in the room needs to hear. Even my cellulite has a place in the room. Because the call for radical self-acceptance has a place in my heart.
Because everyone who wants to be can be a yogi.
As a student of yoga, massage, meditation , poetry and other such introversions, I figured some of my inspirations might also touch the hearts of others. Read, ruminate, digest, create...always returning to this well of deep love inside to renew ourselves and rediscover what we are. Enjoy!