(or how I came to yoga)
How Yoga Arrived in My Life, Take 1: The Athlete
It was more than a decade ago. I was a (fast!) marathon runner and a competitive soccer player, and I was just coming to after my third knee surgery. My parents had already heard the news, but I didn't believe them until my surgeon--a talented, driven woman who regularly fixes knees for professional athletes, returning them to competition--made her way back around and told me herself. My meniscus was gone. My days as a runner were over.
There was some weeping. And a lot of rehab. Plus at least a good year of denial, when a couple of times a week I'd try to sneak in "just a few quick miles," only to pay the price in pain afterwards.
Finally I realized I needed to adapt my movement diet. I began cycling and swimming regularly, and instead of just doing a little yoga from a video before bed, I found a studio and a community that fit me, emotionally as much as physically. Something clicked as we sweated our way through warrior series after warrior series, played with our balance on our feet and on our hands, and turned ourselves upside down. And it clicked again when, at the end of all that work, I felt my body, breath, and mind completely let go and sink into stillness at the end of each class. This was the thing that could fill the hole in my life that had been left behind by running and soccer. And, I realized, I might even need this more than I ever needed the running itself.
It became clear to me: yoga could balance out the intensity of the rest of my life.
Ever since, my yoga practice has been a daily ritual of peace. It has carried me through a PhD, two pregnancies, and the joys and chaos of life with a preschooler and toddler.
At first I was really only attracted to the fastest-paced vinyasa classes that mirrored the endorphin rush of marathons. But as an athlete who had always been interested in how the body works, I was also pulled in by the study of anatomy and biomechanics, by the challenge of building strength into the yoga practice to complement the practice's focus on flexibility, and by the desire to find a way to move that would heal my body rather than continue to injure it.
Practicing through my pregnancies, through the raw days of early motherhood, and watching all of the bodies that passed through the classes I taught, my focus changed. I let go of the traditional vinyasa format. I slowed my classes way down. I released all of the cues that created aesthetically beautiful forms at the risk of long term stability in the body, and sought out ways to practice and teach that would allow ownership of end ranges of motion, strength as well as mobility, and began to incorporate in movements from other movement modalities that would allow my yogis to attend to all of the body blind spots in the traditional yoga practice.
So that's how I got here. Or, at least, that's one version of the story.
How Yoga Arrived in My Life, Take 2: A Recovering Perfectionist
Perfectionism runs in my family. Both of my parents suffer from it, albeit in different ways and to different extents. But it runs deep on my father's side. To a fault. Growing up there were certain projects in our home that would never get done because there was never enough time to do them to my father's standards. Or that would be analyzed and discussed for hours or days or weeks or months without ever getting started, because of the intricacies of planning them out so that they would be completed to absolute perfection. The planning stages of a project could go on indefinitely, unless there was a hard, external deadline to force the project into the works. I'm pretty sure that my grandfather on my dad's side had similar tendencies about certain things, but I wasn't there to witness the everyday living out of it.
But all of that is a different story. It's the context in which mine takes place, but it isn't my own story. My own story might begin in high school, when I decided to take on everything I possibly could at once: all honors & AP classes, year-round varsity sports, the school musical, orchestra & wind ensemble. I didn't sleep much, but somehow I squeezed it all in, and I had to do it all to my own rigorous standards. I didn't have so much trouble getting started on projects. The trouble, for me, was on the other end: I couldn't end a project until the deadline arrived, because I could always make it better. And better still. Even when it was 3am the morning before it was due.
So there's that. But I wasn't just a perfectionist about academic work and extracurriculars. At some point I felt the need to become a perfectionist about my body.
I had never been overweight. I was always moving, running, jumping, playing sports. And my body was STRONG. I remember so clearly a comment a guy friend once made about my legs just before a soccer practice, a comment about how muscled they were. Somehow in his words I missed what was a clear tone of admiration. Instead, what I heard was all about a body that was bigger than a girl's body was expected to be. That wasn't ethereal. That didn't fit the media images that had long been seeping into my belief system from magazine covers at grocery store checkouts and movie trailers and music videos about what a girl should look like.
My friend's comment didn't jumpstart my eating disorder--I had already been on that path for a long time by then. I used every means at my disposal to try to "perfect" my body to fit into an unlivable standard: I counted calories, chose a small group of foods that were "safe" to eat, restricted my eating way down to unsafe standards, made myself throw up if I broke down and consumed anything resembling a normal-sized meal, and exercised endlessly. It was ugly. Everything hurt. I was constantly tired. And this went on for years, until nine months after I graduated from college I checked myself into a rehab program. On my second day there, in a group therapy session, there was this woman I couldn't stop staring at. She was only 30. She had been in and out of hospitals and in-patient programs her entire adult life. She was so thin it hurt to look at her, her teeth were broken and browned, her hair stiff & dry. If she hadn't said how old she was at the start of the session, I would have believed she was at least 70. This was the image that hit home. What I saw before my eyes was a woman who was killing herself in the name of perfection, and yet what she had created was as far from perfect as a body could be.
I started eating at my very next meal. And while it would still take me years to fully unravel the issues that brought me to that moment, it was a huge turning point. I would never go back to that way of living (can you even call it a way of living?) again.
And it was in this recovery, rediscovery of my body, this new project of self-acceptance and self-kindness, that I discovered yoga. And I fell in love.
How Yoga Arrived in My Life, Take 3: Academia & the World Beyond
(to be continued!)