I could never put into words what yoga is to me or what it has done to heal me.
But, in an effort to give others the chance I had to fix what was broken, I offer you this article as a substitute to that.
Yoga teaches balance, in every sense of the word and in every sense of your being. But it took me oh-so-long to actually get that. As a yoga student, I would approach my mat ready to feel some sense of immediate serenity, the kind I saw on the faces of the most practiced yogis out there, but instead my practice would start and I could do nothing but lose all sense of ego as I flopped out of half moon or wobbled my way into Warrior III.
Yoga is the epitome of grace, but I often feel nothing like that as I sweat and breathe my way through a crookedly imperfect flow.
But that’s just it, isn’t it? Yoga highlights all of your hiccups, the mistakes you hold onto, your ups and downs and then tells you to breathe as it irons it all out and releases it in a poof of an asana.
After all, it’s the balance, the yin and the yang, the push and the pull, the falling out of poses and the courage to get back up, the breath through fire and the cooling meditation of shavasana to seal it all in that gives yoga its power and slowly works as a salve to all that is bleeding in your entire being. And the most glorious part of it all is that, while your body mends itself and becomes this beautiful, working unit, your soul follows.
For years, I’ve felt an impending collapse of the haphazard, tee-tottering balance between every push and pull of life. Each day, I pushed the collapse just a little further down the road until I could figure out how to face it straight on and handle it. In part, this precarious balance was due to external pressures of the increasingly stressful demands of school and work, but the pressures were only inflicted insofar as I let them in. And, in an ironic twist of a Newtonian equal-and-opposite-reaction, the more pressure you allow externally, the more pressure that must build up internally to withstand it. You get caught up, you know?
You have these ideals of what your life will be someday but then you snap back to reality and let it take over your rudder and continue steering you towards the smog hanging over modern society’s day-to-day life. You compartmentalize and rationalize over and over and over until you’re sleep-deprived, caffeine-ridden and full of the processed shit that everyone can’t seem to stop gorging themselves on.
Anyway, I did that. Until something somewhere in my body or, as I’d like to believe, in the spirit of life, stopped me cold. Maybe it was my injuries gradually building on themselves from countless, meaningless hours in the gym and on the road or maybe it was the loss of life in the hours spent on what society dictated that I should be doing or maybe it was just time. Doesn’t really matter.
I lost all incentive and motivation to be the picture of what I thought I should be and I found a yoga mat instead. Or rather, my sister gifted me one, my ever-present North Star through a new journey of self-awareness (yes, that sentence is purposely vague—both the mat and my sister ground and guide me daily, hourly, even by the second).
I practiced yoga and couldn’t stop. I could feel its power coursing through me every time I stepped onto the mat and every time I stepped off of it, leaving behind so much more than the visible sweat. I learned to love my body. To love my soul. To love who I was becoming. And, beyond it all, to treasure every moment I spent upside-down, supporting myself in some pose that I never thought I could do.
Gradually, the mistakes became mantras and I felt alive from my yogi toes to my awakening core. My mat turned into my playground. Sometimes, I would surprise myself and work into some unbelievable inversion inevitably named after a timelessly graceful creature, grasshopper. I began to understand that here, on this mat, was my grace. Where else can you feel such raw, unadulterated (pun intended) happiness and joy?
Granted, once you step off the mat, it may come whooshing back down like a suffocating blanket. But I have this little place that I hold onto, this rectangular-shaped, jade, tree-colored mat where my sanctuary will always be. And just in knowing that, it helps.
So therein lies my yin. I hope it helps you find yours. Namaste and may you find peace through your practice.
Vanessa Finch is an environmental attorney in Kansas City, and finds her stress relief on a yoga mat in the early morning hours before work. She first found yoga while studying abroad in Australia and has practiced ever since.
Editor: Sarah Winner
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