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The first time I was a beginner at yoga, I was eight years old and found myself in a 90-minute power vinyasa class.
Sure, I had practiced along with a few kid-friendly yoga VHS tapes in the comfort of my home, but I didn’t have the structure you find in class. I practiced for 15 minutes, then napped for the next 75.
I love telling this story when people say they aren’t good at yoga, flexible or strong enough for a 90-minute class, or whatever belief they’re holding onto.
The point of yoga is not to put your foot behind your head. It’s not about how many chaturangas you can do. Yoga is a prayer, and the purpose of the practice is to honor yourself, mind and body, by listening and responding accordingly.
That’s why, in my very first yoga class, I had a perfect practice. There are no rules to this game, other than to breathe. There is no way for you to fail at practice, even if you get up and leave because you’re so hungry you can only think of food, because that means you are listening. The second you step onto your mat or sacred space, you are honoring and giving back to yourself.
However, this isn’t something I knew in the beginning.
As I continued, yoga was fun, and it meant community and good food after, but it wasn’t a deep practice. I started going because my mom made me, and I continued to maintain a “heroin chic” physique. I didn’t understand the concept of breath work or meditation, and when trauma invited itself into my life, I turned away from my shallow practice and toward alcohol and other substances to dull the screaming in my mind.
After almost a year of skipping class, I was newly sober, incredibly out of shape, not as flexible as I was used to, and desperate for the flow. I remember thinking to myself as I walked in, “This won’t be like normal. My goal isn’t to do every single pose perfectly. I probably won’t be able to do some of the poses the teacher suggests. I will most definitely need to take breaks, but that’s okay. Even if I took a 75-minute nap, I would still have a perfect practice.”
As I walked into class that day, I had 14 years of experience behind me, but I was once again a beginner.
After that day, my yoga practice skyrocketed. I began listening, not just to the instructors when they talked about the importance of breath, but to my body as well. I felt like I finally had something to teach, a message to share that other people needed to hear. So, I traveled to Costa Rica to attend a teacher training course in the heart of a blue zone. The experience changed me. It was probably the first time I felt emotionally vulnerable—and I absolutely despised the discomfort.
I was in a rhythm of teaching and practicing when Covid hit and our world shut down. Days turned into weeks turned into over a year without an in-person yoga class, and with the lack of structure, my personal practice vanished. I had so many really good excuses: the carpet in my house hurt my wrists, the gear room was too cold, outside was usually wet, I was so stressed and didn’t feel like it, I just needed a warm classroom.
I woke up one day and realized old injuries were returning, new ones were forming, and I didn’t have my usual natural strength while paddling, biking, skiing, or climbing, which resulted in more swims, crashes, and falls. I quit grasping onto my excuses for why I couldn’t and made the first step: I unrolled my mat and stepped onto it.
Again, I found myself at the beginning of understanding, and from that day on, I showed up in the mornings, in my jammies, with a sore body from boofing waterfalls. I practiced anywhere from five minutes to two hours. I signed up for memberships, took classes, and followed my body’s own flow. Some days, I just rested in child’s pose, other days my playlist would slap and it would turn into a dance party. Throughout the process, I remembered there are no rules—this practice is whatever we make it.
The thing I love most about yoga is that it’s a practice for real life. Once I get off my mat and continue into the world, I ideally remember to listen to my body and intentionally breathe to create calmness where there is currently discomfort. I remember there are no rules in this crazy life, just as there are no rules in the practice. You can subscribe to structure or go with the flow, both can be correct. I am reminded not to cling to excuses, but to ease into the discomfort and grow or rest, but either way, do it intentionally.
I am sure that someday I will wander off my path and once more show up as a beginner on my mat. I am sure that there is so much more to understand and learn, and I welcome those opportunities. I am certain that what I know to be true will shift as time goes on. Most of all, I know that this journey will not progress without direction, action, and reflection, in both yoga and life.
That thing that lights you up doesn’t have to be yoga, but it does need you to stoke the flame. It requires your attention and curiosity, and most importantly it requires you to create calm within the discomfort.
That’s the flow, and that sh*t will give you a better high than any drug ever can.