Yoga, an ancient but perfect science, deals with the evolution of humanity. This evolution includes all aspects of one’s being, from bodily health to self-realization. Yoga means union – the union of body with consciousness and consciousness with the soul. Yoga cultivates the ways of maintaining a balanced attitude in day to day life and endows skill in the performance of one’s actions. B.K.S. Iyengar
Yoga, to me, had always been the cliché “spiritual girl in yoga pants” stretchy practice. I mean, I enjoyed it from time to time. I have tended to always fall in the “spiritual girl in yoga pants” category anyway, with all the om symbols I own and wear, and my fondness of giving the prayer hands after public speaking or to show gratitude, my love of kirtan music, my on and off meditation practice, my Buddhist leanings and The Hindu deities, such as Ganesh and Shiva in my artwork and adorning my things. I have always been drawn to things around the practice of yoga. But I truly knew very little about the core of the practice. I went to a random class here and there, and hurt and winced my way through every single pose, especially warrior 3. I went with friends who loved the practice. I did my thing. It hurt. Done. It didn’t have any deeper or more significant meaning than that.
In 2014, after moving to Portland, I made a commitment to myself to delve deeper into yoga. Find a studio, become a member, and go. I knew it would be good for my stress levels, for my body, and I really did want to see what all the major fuss was about. Yoga hurts, it’s hard, why is everyone so into it??!!
I went to a few free random yoga classes in Portland and tried to find some yoga buddies but to no avail. Then, that’s where fate stepped in and said, we have to get this girl in a studio, and my partner stumbled upon a woman looking for IT help with her yoga studio’s website, and they got to talking and traded his skill for a free year membership. I was super excited, and it was only a couple of miles from our apartment. Win, win. So, I started attending classes in April of 2016. It still hurt, but I had an open and hungry heart for the practice and for the teachings coming from the instructors. You teach yoga because you found its power, its gift, and it gave you a gift you want to pass on. This I have learned.
At first, I found I was most attracted to the lessons being spoken. I still wasn’t crazy about any of the asanas, the physical poses. Everyone seemed to know what they were doing except me, and I felt clumsy.
During this same time, I had been having a serious internal battle with my own alcohol use. I used it as stress relief on a regular basis. I drank too much and too often. It was giving me digestive issues. It occasionally caused extremely bad behavior. I started drinking alcohol regularly when I was 14 years old. Here I was at 33,34, and I still did not know how to do it maturely and responsibly at times. I still couldn’t control whether I became drunk and vomited everywhere. I realized I had friends and acquaintances that had only seen me drinking because it was my social lubricant.
I didn’t want to use the word “alcoholic” yet I knew there was a problem. I was having to face the fact that I began drinking when I did, and the way I did, because my mother handed me bottles of hard liquor at the age of 14, and told me to keep it a secret. So I did. She didn’t teach me how to moderate, how to make a mixed drink, how to be a healthy responsible drinker. She let her sick and twisted addiction make unhealthy patterns in me. And now here I was having to undo them. But recognizing them. We recognize and notice many times before we have the soul strength to change. Recognition and acknowledgment of one’s own bullshit is step one on the right path. A step towards, what I consider, enlightenment to be. Being aware of the truth, and always coming back to it.
I set an intention with my yoga practice that I wanted to cut back or cut alcohol out altogether. I had no idea if yoga could even help me achieve such a thing. I just knew it was drawing me in, and doing SOMETHING GOOD. The beautiful teachers would say, “Breathe, hold, move through it,” and I would walk through my life, and do just that. Things that were hard becoming less hard all of a sudden. The mantras from the class were becoming tangible. The poses were literally becoming symbolic of twisted or difficult situations in my life.
B.K.S. Iyengar said, “the pose begins when you want to leave it.” This is such a huge gem of a lesson to me. Literally reading that hearing it in class, and holding difficult postures and breathing through them began to restructure my neurology, especially my need for instant gratification. The work doesn’t actually start until you get uncomfortable. Can you sit through it, and just breathe? Can you sit with that which is ugly, painful, hard, or simply not fun, and let it transform you, rather than saying, fuck it, I want to have fun, let’s go drink, or today was stressful, I just need a glass of wine? Hold plank, or Chaturanga Dandasana, or bird of paradise or Eka Pada Koundinyasana, and breathe, and let the energy move through you.
These poses will burn the physical and spiritual toxins away when we practice tapas or fiery discipline on the mat. According to the yoga blog https://www.ekhartyoga.com/articles/understanding-the-niyamas-tapas, “The word Tapas is derived from the root Sanskrit verb ‘tap’ which means ‘to burn’, and evokes a sense of ‘fiery discipline’ or ‘passion’. In this sense, Tapas can mean cultivating a sense of self-discipline, passion, and courage in order to burn away ‘impurities’ physically, mentally and emotionally, and paving the way to our true greatness.”
“In meditation we discover our inherent restlessness. Sometimes we get up and leave. Sometimes we sit there but our bodies wiggle and squirm and our minds go far away. This can be so uncomfortable that we feel’s it’s impossible to stay. Yet this feeling can teach us not just about ourselves but what it is to be human…we really don’t want to stay with the nakedness of our present experience. It goes against the grain to stay present. These are the times when only gentleness and a sense of humor can give us the strength to settle down…so whenever we wander off, we gently encourage ourselves to “stay” and settle down. Are we experiencing restlessness? Stay! Are fear and loathing out of control? Stay! Aching knees and throbbing back? Stay! What’s for lunch? Stay! I can’t stand this another minute! Stay!”
― Pema Chödrön, The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times
Over the last year, my relationship with alcohol and self-pleasure and indulgence, in general, has changed dramatically. Do not get me wrong, I like to have fun. But everything is in much more moderation, with health and wellness at number one. But most importantly, I am mindful of drinking as a stress reliever. Asana practice needs to be my stress reliever. Or walking. I turn down most invitations to go out and drink, and we keep very little alcohol in the house. It just all starts with feeling out the truth. Asking oneself, what is the purpose of (insert any habit here)? What will be the purpose of consuming this drink tonight? Is it the right decision? Will I feel good about it later? I also keep a journal with me at all times so write my thoughts and remind myself of my progress when things are more difficult. It involves setting strict boundaries for oneself and loving yourself first and foremost and not allowing anyone to breach those boundaries or the sanctity of them. I realize that I love the art of fermentation, and fine wine especially to be sacred in and of itself, and I must refine my relationship to it.
Yoga is not a bunch of stretches. Its an ancient spiritual set of principles. The physical poses that one thinks of when they think of yoga are called asana practice and are one of the 8 limbs of yoga. According to Amit Ray, “Yoga is not a religion. It is a science, science of well-being, the science of youthfulness, the science of integrating body, mind and soul.” from Yoga and Vipassana: An Integrated Life Style. A good short and concise guide to those 8 limbs can be found here http://www.yogajournal.com/practice/the-eight-limbs on the Yoga Journal website. I am a student of yoga, and I know I will be for the rest of my life. It just so happens I found my sweet spot in the asana practice, and it has led me to study the yoga sutra and going through 200-hour teacher training.
I am shocked and in awe of the poses I have taught my body to do, the increased flexibility, and so much more strength. Physical yoga practice is absolutely strength training, especially if its Hatha or Vinyasa. My upper arms are tight and larger and popping out of snug-fitting t-shirts. My abs are rock hard (underneath that softer post babies belly that isn’t going anywhere). I never thought I could do a headstand or a handstand, and those poses are simple to me now. Achieving something impressive, and even surprising ourselves, is transformative. Its why the athlete does what they do. I believe in being proud of yourself, proud of your work, of the transformation taking place. I believe in the power of showing the world your progress, as it inspires others to do something new and beautiful for themselves. Yoga practice in this way is an expression of spirit through movement for me. This is my sadhana or spiritual exertion towards an intended goal.
I am working on building up my teacher business, which I am calling Satya Yoga PNW. Satya refers to truthfulness. The Yoga Sutra holds truth among the highest of ideals. Many interpretations promise that once you’re fully vested in Satya, everything you say will come to be realized. Satya requires that you consider both the spoken and unspoken aspects of your words. You don’t want to mislead through omission; neither do you have to say everything that’s on your mind—especially if it’s hurtful. You then establish a way of interacting with the world that includes both ahimsa and Satya, both peacefulness and truthfulness. Yoga Journal has a great article on Satya in our modern world, http://www.yogajournal.com/yoga-101/to-tell-the-truth.
Satya is right speech, right action. Being transparent with ourselves, even in our innermost thoughts. Calling us out on our bullshit so that we may become purified. Being honest with where we are on the path, and being kind to ourselves. It is complete honesty applied in all situations. This concept and this particular Sanskrit word has really spoken to me. Resonance.
I will get my new yoga website up and going soon! I have so many creative ideas, and it is a labor of love. I do plan on teaching and want to begin new moon and full moon vinyasa flow classes. I will complete yoga teacher training in late June. This is just the beginning.