I was sixteen years old when I was first introduced to meditation in motion. At the time it was a toss-up between that elective or jogging inside the gym at Taconic High. Though I was a runner, I opted for choice number one because the beauty of stepping into sneakers and heading out on foot, was always the variety of sights, sounds, and smells I’d encounter every time I set off. Whether it be a trail in the woods or a sidewalk in adjoining neighborhoods, there was nothing like the freedom of being outdoors and having my senses come alive with each stride. The thought of circling around and around on an icky sticky squeaky floor with a band of my eleventh-grade peers, surrounded by empty bleachers, and enveloped in the aroma of damp socks and body odor, didn’t thrill me. So, my indoctrination into the world of “oms and ahs” began.
Our instructor was not the hippie dippy barefoot leotard clad leader who you might see in a studio, she was the youngest of our three P.E. teachers, Miss Blazejewski. She wore shorts, a tee, and sneakers, just like us. I wonder now if she was even trained or qualified to teach this discipline? At the time I didn’t even realize you needed to be certified.
Miss B. presented Hatha Yoga as movements to be done slowly, while breathing deeply. We weren’t told that it would make us stronger or more flexible. Or that it would help us relax and become more focused. I didn’t learn about these and many other benefits until years into my practice. What we did learn were a few basic poses or asanas. The tree, mountain, triangle, and the simplest but grimmest sounding, the corpse. Yikes! We may have done a couple of forward bends, too. Head to knee and one knee bent. It seemed to me that yoga would be a snap to do, and would be an easy A.
How wrong I was!
From my journal: September 26, 1989, Redondo Beach CA – The South Bay Adult School
“Second yoga class…really enjoyed it…worked hard & relaxed at the same time. Being there is like being far removed from issues and problems….”
From my journal: June 17, 1996, Fountain Hills, AZ – At the Fountains United Methodist Church
“Yoga is still hard…very intense – actually worked up a sweat. Haven’t got the breathing down yet but am working on it. This type is called Kripalu. Robert calls it ‘cripple you‘ – ha!”
From my journal: August 18, 2007, London – Bikram Yoga Richmond Studio (now Richmond Yoga)
“Very hard! 104 degrees & 40% humidity – ugh! Could only do the lying down poses. Came back feeling spent, but good.”
In Sanskrit, yoga means yoke or union. Dating back 5000+ years, it originated in India and is based on the fact that the body and breath are connected with the mind. The postures help a person focus on different parts of their body, while assessing how they feel on all levels. Just about anyone can do yoga. Any age, and any fitness level. It’s a-go-at-your-own pace activity, making it more inviting to those who prefer a non-competitive environment. And yoga can be done for a lifetime. Unlike running, which can take a toll on the knees, can cause imbalances, and mainly works the lower muscles (I can attest!), yoga strengthens muscles, releases tension, and works out the entire body. It also cleanses the body of toxins and the mind of negative thoughts. In this sense, yoga purifies the whole person.
While there are many branches of this ancient practice, I’ve had the most experience with Hatha, Kripalu, and Bikram, now referred to as Original 26 +2. Hatha yoga focuses on controlled breathing and postures. The emphasis on Kripalu is listening to your own inner voice which then guides your body movements. And Original 26 + 2 is based on 26 asanas done in the same order every session accompanied by two breathing exercises.
If you do yoga and are asked if it is easy, your response may be like mine. Simply, no. Although I have taken in-person classes, have learned from videos, and books for more than forty years, I still find it challenging. In a good way. Sometimes it’s tougher for me on a mental or emotional level, than physical. It depends on what’s going on with me at the time.
Dipping in and out over the decades, I keep coming back to yoga because…it works! I realize now that I have turned to yoga most often when going through a major life change. A new move, a new job, a new phase of life. It has grounded me. It has supported me. It has empowered me.
And like any exercise, discipline, or practice it’s the showing up that counts. No matter what’s happening in my life, in my body, or in my head, once I begin, I’m there. I’m present. It’s walking through that front door, literally or metaphorically, that matters most…every…single…time. Bringing just a mat, an open mind, and a grateful heart.