The year was 2013. I had just moved across the country for a job in the running industry and, as one would expect, my mileage and intensity was ramping up. I was eager to find ways to enhance my running and ready to start creating some new habits in my new setting.
I’d kept hearing about all the great physical benefits of yoga for tight-hipped runners like myself (as well as the mental benefits, helping relieve anxiety) so I figured I’d give it a go. Plus, I wanted to try those Lululemon tights everyone was talking about.
I bought a discounted month-long membership to the closest studio to my house, grabbed a flimsy exercise mat that I don’t remember buying and made my way over.
I’ll be honest, I was not sold the first time I walked into the studio. Everyone was walking around without shirts and shoes and there was a distinctive smell of stagnant sweat in the air.
Years of soccer left my hips and hamstrings clenched and tight, my runner’s arms shook in each and every Chaturanga and my “monkey mind” would not stop chattering. Needless to say, it was not love at first Down Dog.
However, buzzing off the perfect cocktail that resulted from the stubbornness of being a former competitive athlete that didn’t like not being good at something and the walkable proximity of the yoga studio, I kept showing up. Little did I know that wanting to “be good” at yoga was just the beginning of a journey that would change my life forever.
From the physical yoga practice, I learned the impact of being mindful and using that awareness to make small, tangible changes. Engaging your core, pressing weight equally into all four corners of your hands, setting your gaze on a steady point; just one of these seemingly tiny changes can be the difference between finally flying your Crow Pose and staying grounded another class.
Once my practice felt more fluid and I could spend less time and energy worrying about the differences between Extended Side Angle and Triangle Pose or which way my back foot was supposed to turn in Warrior I, that’s when the real magic happened.
I began paying more attention to the breath (“pranayama”), using every deep, intentional inhale and exhale as opportunities to explore a posture further or transition into something else. With my body on autopilot and my mind focused on my breathing, all the thoughts and nagging to-do lists that clouded the aforementioned monkey mind started to fall away.
As those quieted down, I began to not just hear my teachers talking about their intention or theme for the class, but really listen and take them to heart. Messages about self-love, appreciation of our individual journey, and acknowledging that we have everything we need inside of us already, really brought my practice to another level.
These messages (and an eventual 200 hours of Yoga Teacher Training) inspired me to do my own research on yogic philosophies and uncover the interconnectedness, the union, between the way you move your body and the things you put inside of it, the thoughts you think and the things you say. Each one affects the other and, if you play your cards right, it can bring you closer to getting down to the truest, rawest, most divine part of you.
The most transformative of these for me was the notion and importance of speaking your truth.
In yoga, we practice the physical poses (“asanas”) in part to help our bodies feel good and share the love and light inside ourselves, and also to take that goodness we feel and put it out into the world.
In that light is your truth, the story that you were meant to tell in the way that only you, with your unique background and perspective, were meant to tell it. When you speak your truth, you are speaking from a place of authenticity and trust in the stars, the angels, whatever source you believe in that brought us all here, to provide you with what you need to live your most aligned life.
Growing up I always worried about saying the wrong thing or that I would come off as “uncool.” I used sarcasm to keep from appearing like I cared, which would always keep the conversation at surface level. In my mind, there was nothing that would send me into a panic attack faster than saying anything remotely vulnerable, even if it was the only thing that stood between me and something I really wanted.
I was too afraid to let friends know that I felt left out when they hung out without me, too worried that I would come off “nerdy” if I expressed too much interest in a subject in school, too concerned that my then-boyfriend would break up with me for being too depressed if I shared how much I was hurting from my parents’ divorce.
A friend in college even told me, “Sometimes when I’m trying to say something to you you’ll respond with something sarcastic and I’ll just be like, ‘whatever, it’s not worth saying.’”
In my eyes, my sarcasm and surface level conversation was a way of communicating with others. It seems silly to think this now, but I never realized that the wall I put up to protect myself wasn’t just keeping people at the gate, it was keeping them out of the neighbourhood.
Learning to speak my truth and feeling more comfortable saying the uncomfortable things have brought more wholeness to my life. It’s opened me up to more opportunities to live the life I want to live and love the way I want to love.
I’m more vocal about the causes that matter to me (pro-choice, anti-gun, Fuck Trump). I can tell others when I’m hurting or in need of help. I can recognize my worth and contributions so I feel confident negotiating raises.
I’ve started both an Instagram account and blog to share wellness tips, mindset revelations and really looks into balancing mental health, in the hope that they can help someone else. I can (and regularly do) stop my partner in the middle of making dinner, look into his eyes and tell him how grateful I am that he not only exists but that he could ever possibly be a part of my life.
While yoga as a whole has changed my world for the better, it’s worth noting that there are many different styles of yoga and finding the right style (and teacher) for your physical and emotional needs can make all the difference in finding and creating these types of powerful shifts in yourself.
Yoga is more than handstands on the beach or even just touching your toes. It’s not just sitting on the floor chanting or moving your body to feel better. It’s as spiritual or as physically stringent as you want to make it.
That’s the power of the mind and the power of yoga.