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“I invite you to take a deep breath in and out.”
This was a simple invitation I received almost a decade ago when I began my yoga journey.
The true beginning was long before that through my college career. My dance teachers were using Sun Salutations as our warm-up before class. However, it was just that, a warm-up.
I was drawn to yoga for the physical aspect. When I was first exposed in college, I was resistant to it, having thoughts such as: It’s too slow; I like more dynamic movement; why do I have to focus on breathing?
These thoughts were blocking me from experiencing the benefits of yoga. As I later came to discover, yoga is a science. There is more depth to the physical practice than we hear about and have become accustomed to in gym classes, studios, and social media. Even so, one has to apply themselves fully to experience the ever-unfolding layers of yoga and themselves.
Although most of my college dance classes had yoga integrated into the warm-up, I hadn’t taken a full class dedicated to just yoga. One semester, yoga was being offered as an elective class two times a week. At the time, I didn’t understand the impact that it would have on my life as a whole. I was distracted by my friends in the class, and I wasn’t really interested in learning Sanskrit. There was also a curriculum requirement by the school that the teacher had to follow, so teaching a proper yoga class—at least the ones that I am used to now—didn’t seem to be a priority.
My senior year, one of my dance history professors had recently been certified and was beginning her own journey as a yoga teacher. She was offering one of her practicums to her students and a few of us went to support her. Her class was short and sweet, and I don’t remember much of the flow. I have always been hyper-aware and severely self-conscious about my knees never meeting the ground in a relaxed half lotus—which many of my classmates and dance teachers were able to do. The only moment I remember of her class was the option to sit on a block to allow the knees to relax down below the hips.
In a single moment, my mind was blown. My knees, which were usually uncomfortably stuck, hanging out in space, were now resting comfortably and with support, on the mat.
I can’t say that’s all it took for me to truly begin a journey of self-discovery through yoga. It wasn’t for another two years and a move back home that put me in the right space (mentally and emotionally) to be open to this life-changing practice. A couple of years later, I was taking a class in an old church in Flagstaff, Arizona when it hit me. There were at least 25 to 30 students in the class and the teacher made it feel like it was just me. The way she conducted the room and cued the flow was unlike anything I had experienced in my life. There was freedom in my movement. It was the first time in my life when I wasn’t having to look and copy someone. I was just listening, breathing, and moving. The structure, the freedom, the flow. We just so happened to be focused on the psoas—known in the yoga community as the muscle of the soul. That day, my soul felt heard, embraced, challenged, and loved. My mother gave me the gift of a class pass that holiday season so that I could keep going.
The following fall is when I began my journey inward with the love and support of a wonderful community in Tempe, Arizona. I studied, moved, and released old patterns and behaviors for eight months. The first month after every class, I cried the entire 30-minute drive back to my mother’s house in northern Phoenix. The love that was shared in that classroom through conscious conversation, mindful movement, and deeper breathing was allowing me to release the old version of myself.
Yoga has allowed me to be comfortable with looking at myself more closely without tearing myself apart like I used to. It’s not a pill that has fixed all my problems; rather, it is a science that has allowed me to continue to investigate the vast complexities of my inner world, the unique holiness of who I am.
I am not always a daily practitioner, nor am I practicing regularly to look like all the influencers on social media. I practice when I am being called to return to my mat. That is the beauty of yoga—nonjudgmental, always welcoming, yoga. Yoga has taught me to explore and be curious of myself more often, to recenter through movement, breathwork, and meditation. The endless layers of armor that continue to fall away day after day, year after year, just because I continue to show up for myself on the mat, is astounding. My day is always lighter and easier to navigate when I practice, even for just 15 minutes. Sometimes that’s all it takes to recenter and balance.
So let me invite you again, like I was not so long ago, to take a deep breath in and a deep breath out…let’s begin.