When I first started practicing yoga in the early 2000s, when I was in high school, I must have realized this practice had so much to offer me. I couldn’t really articulate it but I knew something was happening each time I practiced. Back then, I only had a VHS copy of “MTV Yoga.” Yes, that MTV, the channel that used to play music videos – and this yoga practice was led by Kristin McGee and hosted by Lori from The Real World (the Back to New York season, in case you’re curious). Yoga wasn’t as readily available as it is now, especially in a small town, so this tape was really my only way of starting a yoga practice – but it was my practice and it was helping me cultivate valuable skills in how to cope with the ups and downs of life, which I desperately needed. My astute parents recognized that this yoga thing was helpful to their anxious and easily-stressed out child so a few nights a week they dismissed me early from farm duties (a privilege for any farm kid) so I was able to have the house to myself and practice along with that beloved VHS tape. That display of love was and still is not lost on me. After being released from chores, I set out to my ritual. I’d clean myself up then change into my comfy sweats and loose-fitting t-shirt, fire up the VCR, pop in the VHS, roll out my purple Gaiam yoga mat (still in use more than 15 years later) and would “get to work.”
Following my practice, after a restful savasana, I’d put away my mat and then often would take myself out for a walk down the side road that runs alongside my parent’s farm. This walk gave me time to enjoy the lingering peace I felt from my yoga practice, not to mention give me a break from the anxiety that had a way of quickly overcoming my mind and body. As I was living my final chapter of high school, I was sitting on the edge of transition and before long would be moving away to Minneapolis for college so these walks were also a time for me to take in my home – my roots as my mom always reminds me. The farm, the soybean and corn fields, the woods that was and always will be a sanctuary for me. This 17-year-old wandering up the gravel road was actually pretty wise for taking this time and for taking it all in – but she didn’t entirely realize it.
I’ve come to recall these memories lately as friends and family ask me, “Do you still do yoga?” I assume they mean the physical practice. The short answer is yes. I still do yoga. Of course, I have a more drawn-out answer. After moving to Manhattan over a year ago, I made an intentional decision to not pursue teaching – not right away. For the previous five years in Minneapolis, I had taught a variety of formats at different venues and the problem was that teaching became my priority; not being a student. I craved simply being a student again and not always have lesson planning at the back of my mind. I needed to take a step back and return to my roots. I needed to channel that 17-year-old walking slowly up the country road.
Quite fortunately, I came to find a beautiful studio called Yoga Shanti within a month of moving to Manhattan. I was immediately drawn in by each teacher’s intelligent sequencing, attention to subtle detail and authentic nature. It also helped that the teachers were simply warm and welcoming, a standard that should be easy to meet but unfortunately in today’s commercialized and saturated yoga world, this is harder to come by than you would think – but I digress. Practicing with these teachers helped me land back into the yoga practice I so love and now realize I had lost in my years of teaching – ironically, I was invited to reconnect with the very ideas that I was trying to teach. Releasing the burden I put on myself while teaching brought me back to the healing that is possible in being a student who is learning how to simply connect mind and body. The idea of mind-body connection is so simple we think it’s abstract. This is one of the first lines I heard from my teacher, Matthew Sanford. I think of that often. Especially when I’m thinking too much.
While I don’t exactly have a quiet country road to walk down here in Manhattan, I have different ways to find yoga in my life today. I have come to realize that my yoga practice takes many different shapes and not necessarily ones you make with your body. I found it once talking to a homeless man named Shawn on the corner of 29th and 5th who slept on the church steps. He hoped to clean up his act enough to be permitted to see his adult daughter and grandchild in Baltimore. He didn’t even ask for money or anything from me. I think he just wanted someone to listen to his story. I’m also the weirdo who while standing shoulder to shoulder with the mess of humanity that is the New York City subway, I can’t help but smile that this too in its own way is yoga. We’re united by the struggle and we’re in it together. Most exciting to me is that taking a step back from teaching yoga and allowing myself to be a student has opened space for me to revisit a lifelong yet often ignored passion – my writing practice. For me, this is just another vehicle to connect with the realization, peace, and healing that I discovered was possible back when I first “did yoga.”
So, do I still do yoga? Yes. In more ways than you can even know – and probably in even more ways that I have yet to realize.