Wednesday, January 21, 2015

When I began yoga... Part 1 of "Yoga Across the Valley: A Year of Yoga in Phoenix"

Atha yoga anushasanam  

Now, the teachings of yoga. -Yoga Sutra 1.1

Often, folks ask when or how I started practicing yoga. 

Here it is:

My first yoga class, was in 1998 in Milwaukee, WI, at UWM as a P.E. class. I don’t remember much except trying to do shoulder stands against the wall of very small and crowded stuffy room, and laughing. I wasn’t really “there” yet.

In 2002, I moved to Montana for graduate school and within a month of being there my marriage was falling apart, I was miserable. I stopped eating, then, ate too much. I took on a demanding schedule at school to take up all of my time and developed sciatic nerve problems from sitting at the computer or the desk for 10-15 hours a day. Something broke in my spirit, something had to change.

For my first real yoga class, Ashtanga, I showed up chewing gum and wearing thick sweat pants. I don’t think I knew what I was getting into and I don’t think Katie took me seriously for the first week. But, I showed up every other day, ditched the gum and bought a set of Prana yoga clothes. The second week, I was there every day, 6 days a week. This continued for three months and I hurt everywhere, every day. 

I couldn’t bring my foot forward between my hands in one step, so Katie showed me how to lean sideways and double-step. I could not touch the floor with my fingertips, so Katie showed me how to bend my knees to stretch and strengthen at the same time. Soon, my shoulders began to open (not my hips) and my down dogs really were a resting pose. I lost 30lbs in three months and got back some of the happiness I had before moving to Montana.

I started attending every workshop offered on the weekends and even made it to 6 a.m. Mysore class on the days Ashtanga group classes were not offered. I became a bit of an “Ashtangee”. No flow classes for me. There was one foray into a Bikram class. Only one. Ashtanga was “the hardest” and “most serious” way to practice yoga, and it was effective for me. I cried in savasana, I started doing headstands and backward summersaults landing in chaturanga! I felt strong and healthy. I still talked during class, thought I was “awesome” and berated myself for not being as thin and strong as my neighbor. 

However, I stepped into that studio and I knew what to do for 1 ½ to 2 hrs, I didn’t think about any of my outside relationships, my graduate work or what came next. Just breathing and twisting. Breathe and fold forward. Breathe and “Vinyasa”, my new favorite word.

Then, I moved to Phoenix.

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