by amanda swan I grew up in the lululemon yogasphere. The era of Bikram and his wannabes, tight pants designed for tiny sizes, and studios brimming with small, duplicate bodies. … Continue reading eight yoga poses i didn’t think i could practice in my body
Have you ever surprised yourself by how much change you were capable of? For me, practicing yoga didn’t come easily. In fact, when I tried my first yoga class at age 16, I remember being entirely miserable the entire time. My body was not meant to take these shapes, I remember thinking. How can she possibly be breathing this slowly and doing these motions? When will this be over? The next day, I experienced a soreness unlike anything I had ever felt.
I want to tell you my yoga story because it is testimony to the fact that yoga is not for the flexible, but the willing. And yes, I totally stole that from a studio’s sign board. But it’s true. If you are willing to keep trying yoga, it will mold you and shift your life in unexpected ways. Let’s be clear, yoga is more than just the athletic component or twisting into a pretzel. It’s not the exercise class you might imagine. In fact, it is a multi limb practice filled with rich teachings and attention to control of the breath, body, and mind.
Although it was frustrating, yoga was somehow intriguing. Interesting enough to keep coming back to, I decided. And for several years, I practiced yoga about once a month, learning vinyasa flow sequences and then finding a “half and half” class that began with a steady flow and ended with restorative yoga. (I loved that class and Arielle as a teacher. RIP Mudra.) When I moved to Salem the next year, I found an amazing kundalini teacher in the yoga desert (Salem has one yoga studio, and is the same size as Eugene, which has…30?) and delved deeper into my practice, then met a hatha instructor whose exuberant joy felt contagious. But still, I was only practicing in group settings, and only once or twice every month.
Practicing hatha yoga in Salem
My relationship to yoga changed drastically when I became a law student. My first year of law school was an extraordinary challenge due to my unstable and quickly deteriorating mental health. I was suffering from severe, complex PTSD, and it was inducing depression, dissociation, anxiety, panic attacks, and even psychosis. I was actively suicidal for months on end. It felt like I couldn’t escape my trauma, my sadness, myself, despite the fact that I was taking medication and receiving professional help.
One day after seeing my psychiatrist in Portland, I found myself in a TJ Maxx parking lot. I have no idea why, but I suddenly wanted nothing more than to take a yoga class. So, I booted up Mindbody on my phone and searched for classes nearby. There was a hot yoga class in half an hour. I’d always been curious about hot yoga, but had never been brave enough to try it. Luckily, that day I felt courageous. I went into that TJ Maxx and bought a hot yoga towel and a sports bra, bought a 30-day unlimited pass for $40, and took my anxious, depressed self to Pure 8.
The studio wasn’t much different than a regular yoga studio. I’ve never been one to love the heat and I had never been flexible, but I am not exaggerating when I tell you that my first hot yoga class changed my life. The heat and the asana (postures) and the pranayama (breath) as a trio really forced me to be present and engage with the challenge in front of me.
Practicing standing splits not long after starting hot yoga
After only one class, I was hooked. I drove to Beaverton from Salem just to take hot yoga classes because it felt like the only reprieve I had. At that point, I’d found neither a good med regime nor a therapist whose style served me, and I was in an enormous amount of pain. PTSD is often seen as just a psychological disorder, but it takes an enormous toll on your body. The body stores trauma and it can manifest as all sorts of health problems, and night terrors and flashbacks brutalize the body and prevent it from getting the rest it needs to heal. It’s a double whammy that feels like getting knocked on your ass, and it’s hard to recover from.
When my unlimited month at Pure 8 was up, I decided to find a studio in Eugene, because I was planning to move back home. I showed up to Balanced Hot Yoga on a Monday afternoon in the spring and met Libby. I don’t even know how to explain Libby to you, so let me tell you how being in her presence feels: like suddenly you are a little more sparkly, like pop rocks exploding on your tongue, like you let the butterflies in your stomach out to fill the room with color and joy. I was enchanted by her energy, and then she opened her mouth and French came out and I was entirely enamored. During class, she focused more on the internal aspects of the practice and didn’t worry about her body looking like a Yoga Journal cover. It felt like I was at the most amazing church service I could imagine. I loved to hear Libby chant and watch her adjust her students lovingly. In her class, I felt a connection to my body I had never known before. In that tiny little studio with its charming, quirky touches, I knew I had found some kind of home.
A drawing I made of the wall at Balanced
Frankly, Balanced and its wonderful instructors got me through my divorce. There’s a mural on the wall that reads “what you feed grows,” and I did my best to feed my yoga practice. I went nearly every day that summer, sometimes twice a day. Hot yoga consumed my worry, helped me process my feelings. Sometimes I’d go to Wild Light too, but Balanced really felt like home. Even though I didn’t know most people by name, being with them in such an intimate space gave me the community I desperately needed. The solidity of that community enabled me to begin a home practice as well. Eventually, I decided to become a yoga teacher at Balanced’s sister business, Two Birds Yoga Training. (I’m going to write another post later about becoming a yoga teacher and its effect on my practice. Stay tuned!)
When I stopped seeing yoga as exercise and started embracing it as a healing practice, as a guide by which to live my life, everything changed. As excited as I was to become more flexible and bend myself into postures I never imagined I could practice, the inner change was so much grander. To be clear, you cannot yoga everything away, and there are many other components to healing from mental health struggles and trauma. But yoga permeates those components, and saturates my life with a richness I never imagined possible.
I want to share that with you, too, and that’s why I would love for you to attend my hatha basics class. It is my belief that yoga is for everybody, regardless of their body type, ability, or experience. I hope that my class will provide an opportunity for you to experience yoga as something more significant than exercise. If you feel uncomfortable in a group, I am happy to offer affordable, sliding scale private lessons to help you start establishing a yoga practice in your life. The change you will observe in yourself if you commit to a regular practice will be undeniable.