August 20, 2015

Discovering the Yoga Smile: My Unexpected Yoga Journey.

yoga at home

I often hear people say that they shy away from yoga because they don’t think of themselves as the “yoga type.”

They don’t label themselves as someone who becomes human origami on a regular basis, speaks in a singsong way about breathing and the chakras and renounces the very pleasures that make life bearable (wine and bacon, anyone?).

I certainly never saw myself as the yoga type.

For one, I used to party like a rock star. I was also about as inflexible as it gets. Back then, my partner joked that my stiffness reminded him of rigor mortis—not a good look for someone in her 20s.

On the rare occasion when I did try yoga, I was the least flexible person in a room full of septuagenarians and people recovering from bad injuries. The whole thing was a botch.

Touch my toes? Put my what where? Not to mention all that stuff about clearing my thoughts and staying in the moment—how was that even possible?

Eventually, I too, decided that I was not the yoga type and moved on, taking my tight hamstrings and racing mind out the studio door with me.

But then I became a mom. Crawling through that desert of bone-deep fatigue, fear and overwhelm, I craved something else. Rest. Relief. Space. My baby girl cried constantly, endlessly, and as much as I was filled with love for her, I felt broken apart by it.

So I came back to yoga and gave it another try. I did yoga videos at home while my daughter napped. I vividly remember Shiva Rea’s videos—that quintessential yoga goddess. Oh, I was smitten! The subtle, molten pulse in her movements, her powerful femininity. How she luxuriated in each pose, her secret smile hinting at some kind of magical inner world. It was bittersweet—a practice like that seemed beautiful but oh-so-unreachable to my inflexible mind and body.

Still, I kept at it, eventually (and shyly) bringing my practice to public classes. My magnificent teacher, Lisa, gently coaxed me into more precise alignment and a deeper practice while I basked in that ineffable studio ambiance—the music, the smell of essential oils, the communion of fellow human beings trying to make sense of their burdens and fears and become better versions of themselves.

Over time I began to feel the relief I was seeking. Yoga gave me a much-needed holiday from my thoughts, especially those anxious new-parent ones: Am I a good mom? Is my daughter happy? Do I have what it takes?  Yoga coaxed me out of those thoughts for an hour, guiding me back into my breath, my body, and the experience at hand. And once those clingy, cobwebby thoughts cleared away? Awareness was on the other side—the realization that it was all okay, that no one could love my precious girl better than me.

Those glimmers of stillness and insight didn’t always last long, but they were enough to change everything.

Fast-forward a few years. It’s still baffling to me but I am now a bona fide yogini and certified yoga instructor—something I never would have imagined back in those early days in my living room. Still, my practice is far from perfect. Although I’ve come a long way, my hamstrings remain stubbornly tight. Props are my friends, whereas Hanumanasana is not. Not yet, anyway. My body’s ranges of motion are still a work-in-progress, as are my thoughts and emotions, which can still get the best of me at times. And while I love my kale, I enjoy wine and bacon, too—in moderation, of course.

I’m a yogini, but I’m not perfect. Even after many years, a practice like Shiva Rea’s seems impossibly out of reach. But you know what? That doesn’t matter one bit.

What matters most is that I finally understand that little smile. I feel it when I’m on the mat; I feel it when I hold my beautiful daughter in my arms. I feel it when I’m teaching. And, in that wonderful way where things come full-circle, sometimes I can see it lighting up the faces of my students too.


Relephant Read:

Rx for Yoga Moms.

Author: Alana Cheyne

Apprentice Editor: Caitlin Oriel/Editor: Katarina Tavčar

Image: Simple REV/Flickr

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