My scrawny, spindly arms shook like Elvis’ leg as I poorly attempted Vashistasana (Side Plank). My wrists felt sore from holding plank for a whole ten seconds. My awkward attempt at Virabhadrasana I (Warrior 1) looked more like an 1980s rock guitarist’s power stance.
This was my first experience in a yoga class – purely humbling and embarrassing but also challenging and inspiring. As a nineteen year-old, I felt slightly ashamed of my meager upper body strength and resolved that yoga would be my new project. Now, four years later, I teach advanced level yoga and have been humorously called a “bad-ass bitch” yoga instructor.
My story as a yoga instructor starts in 2010, when I transferred from SMU to UNT. New to campus and without any friends to acclimate with, I started attending yoga classes at the Pohl Rec Center as if they were counted towards my GPA. Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday – 11:30am. I was there, on my mat, ready to learn.
I had two major reasons for attending the classes with such diligence. First, I was in desperate need of a physical outlet. I had played soccer and basketball all through high school and without the structured institution of high school varsity sports I had nothing to do. Thus, I found yoga to be a way to gain strength while also engaging in a social environment. That leads to the second, and slightly less dignified reason… I had a crush on a certain guy that worked at the front desk.
Sad, I know. But, I was 19, and nonetheless, that crush played a huge role in my impeccable attendance, and the reshaping of my entire college experience. I went to the Rec every single day and by the end of the semester I was asked to be an instructor.
I literally started at square one – the Elvis analogy is not far off. I wobbled in poses and was so skinny that the instructor once commented, “I’m afraid I might break you!” when she was adjusting me in a pose. Well, that is what tons of running in high school and then a drastic fall-out of activity post-graduation will do to you – atrophy is real, people! I am happy to say that my practice of yoga gradually rehabilitated my muscle mass and then some.
To me, yoga is a physical and mental discipline. The style I teach, Power Vinyasa, combines strength and stability with fluid, free movement. Vinyasa translates as “flow,” or “breath-synchronized movement,” and thus you manually link your movement from one pose to another with intensional, choreographed breaths. It trains your mind to engage with what you are physically doing.
Think about it, most people try to avoid challenges and discomfort. Gym-goers routinely approach their workouts with a “get-in and get-out” mentality, employing headphones and TV screens to distract themselves from their arduous activity. How does this even begin to train you? It seems like it is another facet of instant-gratification – the idea that with minimal work you can get maximum results. I have a serious problem with this. It just reinforces lazy tendencies, hasty, chaotic lifestyles, and little respect for life’s simple pleasures.
Vinyasa is an engaging style – the movement supplies the mind with a physical manifestation, like a moving meditation. The synchronic link between what you are doing now and what you intend to do next has so many real life applications it isn’t even funny. From the simple practice of yoga one also practices patience, acceptance, versatility, creativity, and perseverance. Though our contemporary society encourages go-go-go- and now-now-now, Yoga forces you to slow down and work towards an achievement the old fashioned way – through hard work and patience.
One of the most beautiful things about a progressive yoga practice is the eventual realization that every pose is connected. Foundational poses prepare you for the fun, playful and difficult poses that are a bit more “Instagram-able.” Yet, they are not unrelated from their foundation pose. Once you reach this realization, the more fun you will have in your practice. Transitioning from one pose to another becomes creative and artistic. Just try going from Corpse Pose to Running Man without going through Lizard Pose – I dare you! I promise, it will not only be challenging, but it will also be fun.
I think that everyone can agree that a playful yoga class, where everyone laughs and enjoys themselves, is better than a serious, rigid practice where everyone makes pouty faces in the mirror. Once you learn to relax and just flow through your practice, you might even start trying that in your daily-life as well.
Looking back, my journey from being a beginner Yogi to an Instructor has followed this philosophy. I changed a lot between the age of 19 and 23; forced to adapt because of outlying circumstances and compelled to redesign my life with one hundred percent alacrity. Some challenges were uncomfortable and I learned to deal with them as best as I could. Other times, when I felt dissatisfied with something in my life or if I was eager to pursue something, I pushed forward through the difficulty and came out on the other side with a healthy dosage of reality but, nonetheless, a happier person.
My experience with yoga has given me amazing experiences and reshaped my life. It opened doors for me to places and things I would never have otherwise experienced. I would never have taken up Rock climbing, for example, had I not had my job as a yoga instructor, I wouldn’t have participated as a volunteer at 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell. I wouldn’t have climbed a 5-pitch trad route. I wouldn’t have gained the group of friends that are my second family.
I am excited to be here now, writing this introduction, and being a part of this project. I look forward to writing more articles. Till next time – leave some comments below and give me some ideas on what YOU want to know about yoga.