I’m a white girl who posts photos of myself in Asana online.
But I’m not a yoga or meditation teacher.
I’m not part of any particular lineage.
I’m not claiming to own this practice or this work.
Yoga found me as a child and has been the through line of my life - before and after.
I was born a yogini without context.
I walked the path before I knew about asana.
Here’s a bit of my story.
Yoga Is About Waking Up:
Yoga Sutra 1:2 by Patanjali - ‘Yogash citta vrtti nirodha: yoga is the cessation of the modifications, or fluctuations, of the mind.’ - Yoga Sutras Of Pantanjali
The path of Yoga is about waking up.
As I understand it, from what I've read and studied over the last 17 years, yoga is a science of aligning with reality.
Let me back up.
I started practicing yoga, as a white, Christian girl, when I was 14.
I was in a dark place - as I had been in my whole life. I was born very, very sensitive, into a culture and family that had no tools for helping me navigate this, and that in many ways antagonized me due to fear and misunderstanding.
I was also a total weirdo. The only 14 year old I knew (and have ever known) who’s main obsession in life was knowing God.
I knew all the pain I was in was because I was doing something 'wrong.' I wasn't understanding how things worked - how to get from where I was to where I wanted to be. I knew there was a gap in my awareness and 'faith' and 'God will do it' just didn't cut it for me. At all.
I knew there was another way.
I was living this reality where I felt what others were feeling to such a degree that I had no idea where I began and they ended - and I didn't know that this was happening. I thought all people could feel all people. The term 'empath' doesn’t touch it. Feeling the pain of the world has been my life experience. I never had an ‘awakening’ to the idea that we are all one, I was born feeling it. Meaning I had chronic pain. Everywhere. All the time. In all the ways you can have pain, I had it.
I Was Born A Devotee:
I was also fully devoted to finding God from day one of my life.
No one had to talk to me about going to church, or setting my mind on God at all times.
In fact, I was the REASON my family started going to church. At the age of 3 my questions had gone beyond the scope of their capacity and they were looking for something else to guide me.
I went on my first fast at 11 years old.
I prayed to Jesus as a constant inner dialogue.
I spent hours and hours every night crying and begging to see. To understand why there was so much pain and what I could do about it. I didn’t do shopping or boy obsession. I didn’t even really ‘play’ as a child. I mean it when I say all I cared about was God, people and how I could make the pain stop.
The summer between grade 8 and 9 I was in a LOT of physical pain (had been sick my whole life getting sicker every year). I was anxious. Depressed. Desperate. Lonely. Being in my own life, my body, my family was 100% pain.
So I did what any normal 14 year old who was in pain would do - I bought myself a ‘summer sizzler’ unlimited-yoga-for-the-summer class pass with my babysitting money. I got up at 8 am pretty well most days and walked to the studio for the morning class. I think I went to so many classes I ended up paying 1.25/class. I was not a good deal for the studio.
This practice was no Vinyasa Power Flow. No one was wearing Lulus. This was traditional Iyengar yoga. Chairs. Blocks. Straps. Long holds. Being with myself. It was hard. Painful. Uncomfortable most of the time. They talked about being in the moment. Breathing. There were no flows or mention of how yoga is supposed to make you look. I was the only person under the age of 40 in the room. Always. The first time I practiced Ashtanga I was literally offended by how fast they were moving and how much they were connecting postures.
I learned from teachers who studied directly with Iyengar. With Pattabhi Jois. With T.K.V Desikachar. I got my ‘yoga teacher certificate’ when I was 21 years old, and haven’t taught yoga since. Because I know myself to be vastly unqualified to teach. I’ve got 17 years of practice under my belt and still will not step into the role of teacher. Most likely never will.
Yoga Is About Liberation - Not A Good Butt Or Inner Peace Right NOW:
I learned that yoga is a path to liberation. That’s why I wanted to do it.
I knew it wasn’t about postures.
Yoga was a way of LIFE.
It was something I could DO ALL THE TIME.
It was a science to set my mind and body free.
That’s the only reason I’ve lived this life for the last almost 2 decades. Some sort of bell rang in my being during that first class and it hasn’t stopped ringing since. All of a sudden my deep desire to know, to connect, to use this body for that end - there was context for it. I wasn’t the only one. There were books. Teachers. Mythical characters all obsessed with that which pulled me. What the Christian church had never provided - that mystical connection. That union. That ONENESS. It was to be found here.
I learned that the path of yoga is not about getting a great body. It’s not about calming down. It’s not about relaxing. It’s not a tool to manage anxiety. It’s not a self help modality. It’s not about pain relief. It’s not about helping you manifest having things you want. All of these things may come as a result of the path - and there’s nothing wrong with wanting these things - but this isn’t the point. The point is to wake up to the truth of self, the truth of God, and to WALK THAT OUT in everything one does. It’s not about helping you manage being a part of the system while feeling good. It’s a path to help us break OUT of the system. Counter culture. Again it's about setting ones entire focus on TRUTH and living that focus at all times.
It’s not about being a better ‘fill in the blank’ that you are in your day to day life - being a yogi and a householder (having a life that is not just being a dedicated, renunciant yogi) is a very NEW thing in terms of the history of yoga.
Yoga, the path, is about waking up.
Which doesn’t feel good most of the time. Pleasure in reality does come eventually, but initially it’s not what drives us. There is a DEEP pleasure in the death of all that we thought was real, but the surface experience is hard, lonely, scary, uncertain and generally uncomfortable. The practices are there to help you move THROUGH this, not to get RID of these things. These are the fires that burn away the illusions leaving only reality in its wake. And we need to the tools of yoga to be strong enough to make it through that fire, so as not to get burned up by it or to be lulled into a quiet, slow death by running away from it.
This 8 limbed path (where asana is but ONE limb let’s remember) starts with the Yamas and the Niyamas.
The Yamas in the Sutras are as follows(there are more in traditional Hinduism):
Asteya: Not Stealing
Brahmacharya: Chastity, sexual restraint
Aparigraha: Non-avarice, non-possessiveness (ie. minimalism)
The Niyamas in the Sutras are as follows (there are more in traditional Hinduism):
Sauca: Purity, Clearness of mind, speech and body.
Santosa: Contentment, acceptance of others and the circumstances of the self.
Tapas: Austerity, self discipline, persistent meditation
Svadhyaya: study of self, self reflection, introspection of selfs thoughts, words and actions.
Isvarapranidhana: Contemplation of the supreme being.
This Path Was Meant To Be All Or Nothing:
No where in there is it stated we are to try to make ourselves comfortable.
Are we too try to fit in.
Are we to take part in the food, consumerism, identification and working culture of this world.
We are meant to give up all that.
Accept our place in life.
Mind our speech, actions and deeds.
Focus on God.
Constantly be in a state of self reflection.
Looking for the Divine within.
There’s no ‘doing and then not doing’ yoga.
It’s what you are.
Let's take a pause here. I'll be back next week with the rest of the story.