Revisited: why I will do yoga until the day I die

On Friday, I graduated from Kripalu Center for Yoga and Heath - I am now a certified yoga teacher.  I'd like to pay my respects to how it all started...

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I will do yoga until the day I die. Yeah, I know. That’s a big statement. Especially for me.

I can have some bandwagon tendencies. I jump on and ride along for about six months until a more interesting wagon rolls on by. For a while, thought I needed to buy a potter's wheel, I looked for apartments to rent in South Africa and went through a phase where thought I really needed to be able to read hieroglyphs.

This is different. Yoga is a keeper. This is a lifelong practice for me and if I ever stop doing it, someone needs to kick my ass back on to the mat because I’ve temporarily lost my mind.

Yoga taught me how to manage my panic attacks and anxiety, it has lessened my depression and made me a much happier person. It's made my marriage stronger and has given me the supportive community that I've always wanted.

And then there is the physical stuff.

When I was 11 years old, I broke my back. I was working on a film called Rambling Rose, and in a freak accident in the school room, I crushed three vertebrae between my shoulder blades and I got whiplash in my lower back. It's not even an interesting story, I pushed myself back to get out of a chair, the wheels got caught, I fell backward, hit the wall and snapped forward. I'd really rather tell you I was saving kittens from a burning building, but I like you - I don't want to lie.

After five days in the hospital, they put me in a metal brace and drugged me up on codeine so I could finish the film. Then, I went home to recover and had to use a wheelchair if I needed to walk further than a few steps. (If you want to hear more, and the reason opiates and gorilla costumes don't mix, all that is in my book.)

In time I healed, but some issues remained. I had nerve damage and lingering pain. My left foot would drag when I got tired and the lightest touch to my lower back would cause spasms to shoot down my legs. I was generally stiff and sore, I couldn't get anywhere near touching my toes. But, I just accepted pain was part of my life; I was grateful I could walk. My back pain was manageable. It was mostly fine.

Then, at the age of 30, I walked into a hot yoga studio. Thanks to my anxiety, I had spent an entire therapy session devoted to discussing whether or not I could survive a yoga class. I felt panicked about the people, the heat, the physical postures I knew I couldn't do. But I got myself in the front door and found a whole community of men and women with open arms - ready to welcome my messed up body and chaotic mind. They all had jacked up bodies and minds when they started, too.

Everything changed.

I started to get flexible. 20 years of back pain melted away. And with it, a whole lot of emotional pain dissolved, too. It wasn't instant. It took time. But it became clear that yoga was making me stronger – mentally, physically and spiritually. Yoga gave me back my spine, in more ways than one.

I was ready for a life with a “bad back.” I was prepared for the constant ache and various restrictions. One of those things I shouldn’t be able to do is this:

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But here I am anyway.

It changed my normal. It changed what I could expect from life.

Yoga is not about being flexible or having cute yoga pants or chanting in some language you don't understand. It's about learning to get distance from the incessant chatter of that inner critic jerk who wants to ruin everything. It's about the courage it takes to be willing to show up, just as you are, and have that be good enough.

Some days who I am is a person who is overwhelmed by the world and needs to spend most of the class in tears, lying on my mat. And that's good enough, too. Yoga is where we learn to let go of what is no longer serving us and sometimes that process is emotional. Having a melt down in class is pretty much a  rite of passage. Everyone else is dealing with their own stuff so no one really notices, but it's still nice that tears look a whole lot like sweat.

Yoga is not about being "good"  - it doesn't matter that I still have a hard time getting my forehead to my knee in Dandayamana Janushirasana after seven years of solid practice. I’ll probably get there eventually. I’ll still be doing this when I’m 84; seven years is nothing.

I don’t take compliments well. I shrug them off and explain them away, inadvertently flinging a kindness back in the face of the person saying it.  But when someone praises my backbend, I do my best to fight that habit and simply say thank you. Because it’s the purest and most genuine way I know to express gratitude – to my spine, to this practice, and to this life.

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If you are interested in yoga and have any questions, please ask in the comments! I always recommend going to a class because teachers can help you with proper alignment and any modifications you might need. At the studio where I practice, we have men and women of all ages and body types - new people are always welcome! 

If going to a studio is not feasible for you - check out Yoga with Adriene. She has free YouTube videos that are fantastic for all levels. 

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