Namaste. My highest self greets your highest self.
A few weeks ago, as I settled into my yoga class taught by a substitute, a soft-spoken tattooed transgendered person named Raven, I had to admit I was having one of those “How Totally Vancouver” moments. It was a great class. My shoulders went places I never knew they could (and probably shouldn’t), and I left feeling very “grounded,” as I do every time I walk off the mat.
Though technically I think my first yoga classes were at my gym in LA in the early 1990’s, I started going to yoga classes in earnest in the late 90’s with my friend Norene, when we were both working for a social venture start up in San Francisco called Education Partners. Our office was in the KQED building in a funny part of the city, wedged between Potrero Hill and the Mission, but with no real neighborhood identity of its own (at least at the time). Norene was going once or twice a week to a yoga class just down the block and I decided to give it a try too.
I loved the teacher, a lovely soft-spoken woman, and immediately appreciated yoga for welcoming me as a beginner, and for allowing me to stay at a beginner level for as long as I felt comfortable — which turned out to be years. There was no pressure to push myself beyond my comfort zone; in fact, I was explicitly taught to explore going as far as my “edge,” but not beyond. Finding my edge can be uncomfortable, but never painful. As someone who was never very flexible, not even as a girl, I was relieved to know that I don’t have to prove my agility to be a yogi.
Sitting in an upright position, breathe in deeply, letting your belly and lungs expand….
For some reason, I stopped going to yoga while I was in business school (in hindsight, that was a mistake!), but picked it up again when I moved to Vancouver in 2003. There was a studio by my house where I walked to 7 a.m. classes two or three times a week. Never before and never since have I started anything so early in the morning, but I loved the gentle movement to start my day.
When I moved to Sedona the following year for a two-month working retreat, I found a wonderful teacher who taught yoga in her house to just a handful of people at a time. I received some great, personalized instruction there, and became friends with my teacher as a bonus. Then I moved back to Berkeley and went to the odd class here and there at this yoga studio or that one… nothing really stuck, but I knew it was good for me to just keep going as often as I could.
Put your hands to your heart in Anjali mudra.
Though I’ve never really had what you’d call a regular yoga practice, I probably came closest to one after moving back to Los Angeles in 2005. As you might have gathered, I’d been through a lot of moves over the previous few years, and was in search of some spiritual re-alignment. My cousin Gabi recommended I check out a (then) new style of yoga called Anusara, a derivation of Hatha focused on alignment, attitude and action, so I found a studio that offered it and went twice a week after work on a pretty regular basis. There, I learned to do headstands and shoulder stands and all sorts of poses that I can’t do anymore because the yoga studio I go to now doesn’t teach them (and I’m not brave enough to try learning them again on my own). I loved the active teaching, as well as the spiritual lessons that came before each class and the chanting of the Sanskrit invocation. I firmly believe that, along with gardening and my awesome Buddhist therapist, yoga was foundational in helping me regain my center during those three years in L.A.
Back in Vancouver, I avoided yoga studios for my first couple years here due to the sheer expense, and instead practiced with free podcasts in my living room. They were adequate but not quite sufficient, and I started to run out of episodes that I wanted to hear. So three years ago, I pounced on a great deal for an unlimited pass with a reasonably priced studio that has a couple of nearby locations, and I go once or twice a week at a minimum.
There’s something about taking an hour and a half out of “regular” life and just focusing on breathing that is incredibly powerful. No matter the teacher or the style, I always find some pleasure in the simple acts of movement intertwined with stillness.
The harder part is remembering to integrate these lessons “off the mat” – keeping the yoga consciousness with me throughout each day. I guess that’s why they call it practice.