Truly, my relationship with yoga started as a challenge. With a dad who was a triathlete and had a masters degree in exercise physiology, our household had a very traditional perspective on fitness growing up. Running, cycling, and weight training were a way of life, and through my late 20’s I relied on running to stay in shape. A combination of years of running, cheerleading and 3 pregnancies made running painful on my knees and hips over time, and my own attention to my health and wellness decreased as the demands of family and work increased. In November of 2016 I found myself in a place in my life where I needed to make a conscious decision to step out of my own definition of who I had become on the heels of a couple of years that had unwillingly challenged my sense of personal equilibrium. Running had always provided me not only a great workout, but also was a place to clear my head and release stress. Without it, I craved another outlet that would allow me to to find my center, a place where my brain would slow down, my energy could be focused, and my body could be challenged.
When I stepped into 3 Sisters for the first time in January of 2017 it was my first ever yoga practice. That was my first yoga challenge. I was nervous that I would feel out of place because of the years of inattention to my own fitness, and questioned whether or not something that, in my mind, equated to an hour of stretching could really make any significant impact towards my goals. I stumbled through that first hour, spending much of the time discretely looking to my left and right to figure out what each of the poses was supposed to look like, but left feeling lighter. I realized that, for the first time in as long as I could remember, I had spent a whole hour thinking about nothing other than what I was doing in that moment. I was not worrying about forms that needed filled out for school, meetings I had scheduled for the upcoming week, or the grocery list. My muscles were tired, but in a way that felt more like relief than over-exertion.
Two classes a week soon moved to three, and that April I participated in my first challenge month at the studio. It was during that month, working to meet and surpass 15 classes, where I felt the internal switch from making the decision to practice to my body needing to practice. If work or kids’ activities interfered with my yoga schedule for more than a couple days I could feel my need to get back to my mat. I would miss the physical and mental experiences equally, and felt like a piece of me that I had been missing for several years was starting to return. Not only did I notice a different physical strength than I had found before, but I also appreciated that there was a place that I could come where my identity was based solely on me, as opposed to being defined by being someone’s mother, or wife, or daughter, or co-worker.
While summer approached and I considered how different days would look without school being in session for the kids, I begrudgingly decided that if I wanted to continue making it to the studio 4 to 5 times a week I would need to try a hot class. The early morning summer offerings were too good to pass up when it came to our family schedule. I knew that if I wanted to stay on track that I had to get past my own preconception that hot yoga classes were only meant for people who could double as Lululemon models. The heat that first night was oppressive. I could not understand why it felt like time was standing still and put all of my effort into not slipping in the puddles that were quickly accumulating on my mat, but before long the sweat associated with those hot classes became addictive. Challenge met.
As the big sheets of paper go up on the wall to track everyone’s progress, it has been an opportunity to consider how the idea of challenge has been at the core of my journey with yoga over the past couple years, as well as how it has evolved. Most recently I find myself struggling to give my permission to do what Courtney so often reminds us of at the beginning of class, which is to take what we need and that this practice is our own. I want to be less critical of myself when I need a little extra rest in the middle of my 7th class in 8 days. I want to be ok with the fact that my balance before noon looks a lot different than my balance later in the day. I want to let go of resistance to poses I have found challenging in the past and not be afraid to keep trying. After all, there is no place in my life that is safer to fall than right there on my mat.