Everyone has a different story for how they found yoga–whether it’s through a friend pushing them to go to a class, seeking pain relief from an injury, or at the recommendation of a doctor. Mine is really about how I found me, my truest self, and my deepest fears all on a gross, old yoga mat. I started a personal practice as a teenager, nearly a decade ago. Most people remember those awkward teenage years–the braces, the pimples, the awkward lack of social skills. I was no different. I had little to no body awareness, I took my body for granted, and was completely irreverent of it. I fueled up on diet of toxins and grilled cheese. I felt out of place in my own body, and thus generally allowed in judgement and allowed others to make use of my body as they pleased. Long story short, I didn’t realize I had a choice in how I perceived myself or what I let into my body.
I started practicing yoga because I was lazy. I took a yoga class as my sport, as a break from the rigor of water polo. We practiced informally on the stinky wrestling mats in the school gym, and our teacher simply taught from the depth of her heart, not from a place of formal training. I loved it. As a class trip, we headed to a formal class. That first yoga studio experience was not the enigmatic healing experience one might fantasize about. I walked into a boiling Bikram room, only to feel like fainting. Upon leaving the room (so I wouldn’t pass out) and returning, I was greeted by a public shaming by the instructor–a tall, bald and heavy tattooed drill sergeant–in front of the whole class. I was mortified. And after having my body yanked and “assisted” into several painful and unproductive yoga postures, I had had enough. Oh helllllll no, I thought to myself. If that was yoga, I wanted nothing to do with it. But eventually I tried another class out, something still hot and still intense, but less mean. I stuck with the studio crowd, and got my first 200 hr training in Baron Bapiste style power flow.
Around that time, I was attending Davidson College, and like most type A, over achievers, I was wildly stressed, and the flow worked to help me tune out the stress. I did my first training by practicing yoga for 3 hours every week day, 4.5 on Saturdays and Sundays for two months straight. Yoga became just another way for me to check out, ignore my body, and push through pain. After several injuries, it became too much to ignore. I hadn’t even hit twenty yet and I already had arthritis in my neck from what my doctor suggested was aggressively over-doing shoulder stands.
I sought out something more therapeutic. I took a second 200 hr training in Subtle Yoga with Koaveri Weber, then went on to complete a 500 hr yoga therapy program with her. I also studied with David Emerson whose recent work, with Bessel van der Kolk at Harvard on PTSD and yoga, has been critically acclaimed. The therapeutic yoga training totally shifted my practice and my state of mind. I actually found a voice within my body and laid claim to my own autonomy as an individual woman. I embraced my body. And I embraced my femininity. Instead of doing everything to escape my body, I started diving into it. I found that the body can be a medium for creatively expressing the physical manifestation of emotions. Intuition became my main guiding light, as opposed to over analyzing. Through yoga, I made peace with my femininity and right brain, and learned to thrive instead of simply survive.
If we, as women, are going to embrace our bodies, our self-worth, and self-respect, then we need to take charge. No more uninvited “assists” in our bodies in yoga. No more uninvited male teachers casually groping during a yoga assist. No more pushing through painful asanas. If you haven’t found the perfect yoga class yet, keep searching. Learn what fits and what doesn’t. Just like you wouldn’t wear an uncomfortable, itchy, wool pair of pants in summer, don’t force yourself through a class or practice that simply doesn’t fit. It’s possible to find your power on your mat, if you’re willing to step away from what doesn’t work.
Author: Cait Allison