“We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.” –The Buddha
It was August of 2015 and I was crying on the floor. Now, this isn’t really what you think. I wasn’t having a bad day, or having problems at work, or in my relationship. No, I had just taken my first yoga class, and I found myself crying on the floor during Savasana. I know what you’re thinking: Yoga is good for you, why would you be crying? You should have been smiling! I know – I get it; it was definitely a weird experience, but I can tell you now, that it’s pretty common.
I’ve always been a pretty active person: I danced, played soccer, swam, but I’d always been fairly disconnected from it, other than being aware of being sore or feeling good after an intense workout. I thought that was all there was to it, and didn’t really concern myself with digging any deeper.
When one of my best friends moved to Seattle for college, she found yoga and was always talking about it; it was something that was really transformative for her: it helped to calm her anxiety, deal with the pressure from school, and to cope with her loneliness in her long-distance relationship. While I was happy for her, I didn’t really see the appeal: it couldn’t make that much of a difference, right? I was active, happy, and I was making progress in my career, I didn’t really need to add anything else to my already packed schedule. My friend eventually decided to pursue her certification to teach and started teaching at a studio in Boulder. She’d finally convinced me to come take one of her classes, and I figured, why not? I’d at least get a good workout, and the class was free.
I remember walking into the class, looking around at what all the other students were doing, because I had no idea what to expect. People were stretching; some people were already flowing, but it looked like most people were relaxing. I thought, Okay, I can do that. So I plunked down my mat, and just laid down on it, not really understanding why people were choosing to lie around before what was supposed to be an exercise class. When the class started, my friend came in and started talking about how yoga is movement and breath, all in one. I sat and listened, even though I was secretly thinking this was a little frooffy for me, and that this whole experience was going to be a little out-there.
After opening the class, we all began together in a posture called child’s pose. We started to activate our breath, to move our bodies in unison, and I started to feel like I was having an out-of-body experience. I felt like I was at home in my mind for the first time in a long time and I was able to just work through all of the things I was ignoring. It was an incredibly moving experience. I found myself feeling things that I hadn’t even realized I was holding in. It was overwhelming. I really thought that I was taking my own mental health seriously, because it was something that I was aware of: I was doing better than most people I knew, but the class proved to me that I was just scratching the surface of just how aware of my body and consciousness I could be.
I’ll be the first to admit that there were a lot of things that I didn’t understand about a yoga practice: I’d always thought that it was about doing handstands, and breathing really intensely, and zoning out for a little while. And on a surface level, it is all of those things. But it’s a lot of other things, too. It’s about using your breath to become aware of your body and your surroundings, and to unify them. I’d been treating myself like I was made of separate pieces that needed separate remedies: I went to the gym because I wanted to stay in shape; I ate healthy because I didn’t want to get sick; I drank water – you know, all of the things that you’re supposed to do to live a good life – but I was ignoring what my body was telling me. I wasn’t listening to my body when I felt gross after I ate dairy, or my gut when it told me I should have broken up with that boyfriend a year before I actually did, and it’s because I didn’t realize that my mind and my body were not separate entities that needed separate fixes.
I realized that day that they’re not: It’s one unit, and it needs something that works for all aspects. I know that everyone who does yoga with any kind of regularity says that it changed their life, but it really did change mine. After I finished that class, I realized that I was ignoring large parts of myself in order to be living life the way I thought I should be. If this seems like a dramatic reaction to this moment, you’re right, it was. It encouraged me to really take a look at how I was living my life, and work on things as a whole instead of just in pieces.