Into the Yoga-Verse
Updated: Apr 28, 2019
Hey MTV, welcome to my blog.
Well kids, I've been threatening to do this for years now, and it's finally happening. Buckle up. I thought I'd start this little blogging venture out by answering my most frequently asked question: "How did you get into yoga?"
Getting into yoga seems to have become a point of contention for those who knew me "pre-yoga.” I went to a local bar near my hometown the day before Thanksgiving last year, so naturally I ran into about 90% of my high school graduating class there, many of whom were home for the holiday. One of my former classmates came up to me, Coors Light in hand, and said "Yoooooo, you became mad yoga like...suddenly." I couldn't really disagree. My social media presence did become Mad Yoga Like Suddenly. I went from posting nothing about yoga to every post being about yoga. While my Instagram feed may have made it seem like one day last summer I just decided to start practicing yoga and post about it every day, that's very far from what actually happened.
To tell this story, I need to throw it all the way back to pre-election 2016, back when we all had dreams and the Brazilian rainforest still had blue macaws. Cue "A Whole New World."
After graduating high school in 2015, I continued my education at a musical theatre conservatory in New York City. I packed up my bags, bottled up my anxiety (big yikes), and moved into a dorm the size of a closet. Amenities included a microwave, a bunk bed, and a roommate from a different continent who, I kid you not, never got over her jet lag. Bless her heart, that girl was nocturnal from the day I moved in until the day I moved out.
My schedule while at this school was absolutely bananas. I woke up every day at 6 AM, had class until 5 or 6 PM, then spent the rest of my night doing homework. It was singing, acting and dancing, all day long. This was something I absolutely loved, until I didn't. While I learned so much about myself and the art of theatre my first semester there, my second semester didn't go quite so well. This was a huge disappointment for me, since even deciding to go to college at all was a major leap of faith. I was so hoping that this would be it, that this was where I belonged. But I had to stay true to myself. Hope isn't enough when reality is staring you dead in the face. And the reality was that I knew I didn't have the room to grow in that space any further, so I decided to finish out my freshman year, then I quietly quit. I moved back home to figure out what the next step for me was.
"Figuring out the next step" quickly became what I can honestly say now was the most intense internal struggle I'd had up until that point in my life. I was still very serious about pursuing a career in theatre, but I had no idea how to start. I knew I had to be living in the city, but I didn't have the means to do that, and I had a lot of big decisions ahead of me. Decisions that, as a 19-year-old person, I was not ready to make.
I think we tend to overlook the pressure that is put on young people to make decisions that can have lifelong consequences. You can go to college, which is the social norm nowadays, but then you're in debt for the rest of your life (unless you get an amazing job immediately after graduation, which happens, but not often), or you can take the other route. You can skip college and choose to take your own path. Only that path hasn't been made yet, you have to do it yourself, and you might have a small idea of where the path leads but not totally, and on top of that your parents are asking you every day, "When are you going to college?" Both scenarios feature hormones that are completely out of whack, and more anxiety than you're equipped to handle. Oh, and you're not even old enough to drink yet.
I digress. When moving back to the city didn't pan out as I'd hoped, I was simply lost, and looking for something to take up my time and energy. This was when a friend of mine told me about a special that a local yoga studio was having. They were offering 30 days of unlimited yoga for $30. Now, I'd been introduced to yoga before this point, in one of my classes at school. We would use certain poses to help with vocal projection and breathing—musical theatre school, remember? Yoga had always been in the back of my mind as something I wanted to try out. So, I figured I had the time, and signed myself up...but I had another idea.
I couldn't just do the yoga thing, because I was born with some feverish Too-Much Gene, complete with the compulsive desire to enter competitions that don't exist. If I'm going to do this, I thought, I'm going to do this right. And that was when I decided I would try and make every class cost $1.
In those 30 days, I attended 33 yoga classes, making every class about 91¢. I won the competition, beating no one.
From that point forward, I was hooked. I practiced yoga asana (postures) every day. I couldn't afford the regular price of a membership at the studio where I started, so I got a job working at the front desk of a different studio in exchange for a free membership. To this day, the most I have ever paid for a yoga class (excluding trainings and workshops) is 91¢.
I think the thing that made me fall in love with yoga, and a huge part of what has kept me and probably so many others like me practicing, is the fact that there is no perfect practice. There is a modification, a different perspective for every pose, and none of it looks the same on every body. Your practice is always going to be only yours, and it is completely up to you what you make of it. Whether you stand on your head, put your foot behind it, or just hang out in child's pose for a while, it is all completely acceptable.
After about a year and a half of consistent practicing, I decided to take the next step with yoga and enroll in a teacher training program. I studied at YogaWorks in SoHo, under the incredible guidance of master-teacher Laurel Beversdorf. The things I learned about myself during this period, both inside and outside of the studio, are completely invaluable, and lessons I will remember forever. But that's another story for another day.
This training was deeply hands-on and involved, which is just what my peers and I needed to really absorb the information that was being given to us. Yoga teacher training is not just about learning how to cue poses; it's about the art of sequencing and anatomy, and how to make yoga accessible for all bodies.
My favorite lessons in this training, though, came when we spoke of yoga philosophy. Reading the words that are often left out of a traditional Western 1-hour vinyasa class was the most eye-opening experience for me. Yoga is not just about movement, far from it. Yoga is about looking inside of yourself and asking how you can serve others, through freeing your own mind of the selfish ideals and inclinations you may have. It's about recognizing that peace starts with you. These words came to me at the time I needed them most, and they are a tool I use daily to check back in with what really matters.
When all is said and done, the practice of yoga asana is only a fraction of what yoga has given me as a whole. It has completely changed my body, yes, but it has also completely changed my mind. It has given me the space I unknowingly was so desperately craving to look deeper, to cultivate a relationship with myself that is nourishing and loving. I learned how to listen to myself. I learned how to know what I need on a physical level. I’m in the beginning phases of learning to know what I need on a mental level, but I think that may take a bit longer. Hey, I’m only 22.
To anyone who is thinking about starting a practice but isn’t sure of how to start: it starts with you. It is my humble opinion that only positivity can be gained from yoga, if you enter into your practice with an open mind and an open heart. It has been a vital aid to my well-being in the two and a half years that I’ve been practicing, and it is something I know will be a part of me for the rest of my life.
If you try it and it’s not for you, that’s okay too. But at least give it a try. You may find what you’ve been looking for.