My "yoga journey" has been long and slightly meandering but even from my first time on the mat, I believe a part of me knew I was onto something. It started six years ago when Zach and I had just moved to San Diego, California, and through the last six years yoga has always been there for me. I first walked into an Ashtanga studio I had found on Groupon because I was running a lot, training for my first half-marathon, and feeling a little off balance. I had never been an “athlete” or a serious runner before, and as I felt my muscles getting tighter and tighter from all the running, I knew I needed to start stretching to avoid injuries.
And so I started Ashtanga at this new, small studio in Pacific Beach with a funny, encouraging teacher, and although I saw myself as being “not good at yoga”, with my tight runners calves and weak upper body, I loved the euphoric feeling I got after the practice. From there I got Zach to start coming with me sometimes, and eventually I started practicing Ashtanga up to five times a week! I started taking a few Vinyasa and Hatha classes at Indie Yoga because it was closer to my house, and at first although the heated classes were hard to survive, I loved that every flow was different. Once I learned to take the heat, Indie became my home studio. For the next few years I was still drinking and struggling with body image issues, and I thought of yoga mostly as a workout, while enjoying the bit of inner peace it brought me as an added “bonus.”
I can’t remember exactly when or why I started meditating, but it may have been because I started listening to the Rich Roll Podcast and heard him often espousing the benefits of meditation. I started with guided meditations using the Headspace app and although I went through phases of dedication with it, I still struggled immensely to let thoughts pass me by and sit still for even 10 minutes a day.
I was very “all or nothing” with my yoga and meditation practice for the next few years. I knew it was good for me, but I worked a lot, my alcohol dependency was also ramping up, and I could always find an excuse to miss class if I didn’t really want to go. I couldn’t discipline myself to practice at home very often, so if I was traveling or working doubles or on a drinking binge I would miss yoga for weeks, sometimes. Then I would go back and promise myself to recommit, signing up for whatever “30-Day Yoga Challenge” or something my studio was hosting at the time and pushing myself to classes every day until I would get burned out again. I would even drink before yoga or before a run, and I can’t really even remember how I justified it, just that I drank almost every day and it seemed normal to me because I made it that way in my own head. I always kind of hoped my yoga practice or my running would “save” me by forcing me to manage my drinking, but in the end it never did. More and more often, yoga took a backseat to parties, drinking alone, or hangovers. I never saw myself advance in my asana practice as much as I wanted to, due to my inconsistency, lack of home practice, and most definitely the fact that I was pouring poison into my body every day.
There was one weird moment in the midst of this time that I’ve never forgotten. My studio had a teacher training coming up and after class one day, the studio manager asked me if I was planning on joining it. “Ummmmm, no….” I’m sure I said, as I was completely befuddled by the fact that she would even ask me! In my head I was the least likely and least worthy student to ever become a yoga teacher. I mean, ME, with my continued lack of progress, my imperfect physique, and my two glasses of wine before hot Vinyasa habit? Really? I laughed it off.
But somehow I never forgot her asking me that question and never stopped wondering why. Did she see something in me that I didn’t even see in myself? I think from that day on, teaching yoga actually became a tiny mental possibility for me, even though it wouldn’t become a physical possibility a couple years and a few major life changes later. It’s amazing the clues or “breadcrumbs” a la Hansel and Gretel that the universe leaves on the trail for us, for after we get deeply lost in the woods and are finally ready to find find our way home.
Eventually one thing that became clear to me, among others, was that attending yoga classes half-sauced half-the-time was not going to be enough to save me from myself. August 8, 2016 was the day of my last drink, and you can read about that here. In the early days of sobriety my yoga studio was one of my lifelines, the sweatier and harder the class the better at giving me a break from my constantly churning, anxious thoughts. Once I ditched the hangovers I ditched my most common excuse for neglecting my practice. Once I ditched trying to keep up with all my drinking friends, I had a lot more time open in my schedule for attending new yoga classes, trying out new styles, and special meditation workshops. There was a big void in my schedule once I got sober, and a bigger void in my heart, and thankfully yoga helped me fill both.
As I worked the 12 steps of AA, Step 10 helped me define yoga and meditation as my chosen practice, a practice I must do not just for physical health, but for my spiritual health, serenity, and the success of all my relationships. Even after four years of practice on the mat, sobriety opened yoga to me as if for the first time. I started getting occasional “messages” from my higher power during my shavasanas, in the form of sudden bursts of thought or inspiration entering my brain seemingly out of nowhere. Because I was finally open and listening to the universe, the universe was finally speaking to me.
I started secretly tinkering with the idea of doing a teacher training “someday.” I read somewhere that “If you’re already wondering if you should do a YTT someday, then the answer is yes, you should.” The dream grew bigger until everything aligned for me to join an immersive, one-month Quantum Yoga teacher training in Sri Lanka, during our first year as digital nomads, around the same time we were dreaming up Bigger Life Adventures! Investing in my future was expensive and scary but as these things always work out perfectly, I ended up in the most perfect teacher training program for me! It was small, intense, in a beautiful location, and full of amazing souls who quickly became wonderful friends. Quantum Yoga is a method of yoga practice designed by my remarkable teacher Lara Baumann, which combines Vinyasa Flow style, Ayurveda (the ancient Indian “science of life”) and the modern principles of Quantum Physics. (Read more about it here!)
I wrote a bit about my teacher training experience on these posts (Part 1 and Part 2) so here I’ll just say that my YTT with Lara and the other awesome co-teachers was so life-changing. Learning about yoga history and philosophy, practicing mediation and pranayama (breathwork) for hours each day, the deep conversations with my fellow trainees…it was challenging and emotional and inspirational and I knew it was exactly where I was supposed to be.
Yoga today for me is about so much more than I realized it was in the beginning. Since becoming a teacher, I care even less about having a perfect handstand and a perfect yoga body. I care more about devotion. Devotion to my sadhana — meditation, breathwork, and asana every day, at least for a little bit. I care about using the principles of Ayurveda and yoga to listen in to my body and treat it well. I practice different styles of meditation and breathwork depending on my needs and desires that day. Some days my asana practice is just to lie in Suptabadokonasana and breathe. Some days it’s to challenge myself with extra inversion practice after a long sweaty flow. I still love finding great studios with inspiring teachers and attending classes, but I’m working on being disciplined and devoted in my self practice as well. When I teach yoga, sometimes I feel incredibly in flow and supremely connected with my higher power. I know I’m fulfilling my dharma by teaching and running Bigger Life Adventures, because god/the universe/whatever you want to call it brought me these gifts and opportunities and ideas and passions. I’ve never been so confident or fulfilled in anything else I’ve ever done in my life. Most importantly, my yoga is not just on a mat and it’s not just a means to an end anymore. I can’t believe that three or so years ago, when that studio manager asked that lost, drunk girl with a yoga mat if she was planning to become a teacher someday, that the answer turned out to be “Yes!"