When I first began my yoga practice, I walked into the studio with a need for something more.
I wish I could say I was seeking a deeper connection to myself, or that I was searching for truth and enlightenment, but no, all I was really looking for was one more class to add to my little roster of classes so that I could continue to tone up and lose weight.
Looking back on it now, it seems almost as if that person who walked into the yoga studio was not me, but some stranger, some poor, broken, lost person who had no idea what she really wanted in life. It seems like this, because that was exactly who I was.
I had spent the better part of my adolescence and post-adolescence in a state of constant panic and obsession over the way I looked and what number the scale had to present to me each morning, as if that one number could determine my entire worth by how low or how high it was from day to day.
I spent countless hours pinching fat and mentally yelling at myself for being so fat and worthless.
I would look in the mirror each morning and try to will myself to stop eating. I turned to laxatives and diet pills, which took a toll on my heart, and in the year 2003, at age 18, I underwent heart surgery to fix the atrial fibrillation I had brought upon myself in the search to become “model skinny”.
After the operation, I was told to take it easy, which meant no hard core drinking when I went to college, no caffeine, no smoking ever, no drugs ever (which, according to the doctor meant that should I ever go out with friends, my drink and food were never to leave my sight, and if they did, they were to be discarded in case someone had tampered with them) and no overdoing it by starving myself or taking anything dangerous to lose weight.
Of course, my family made sure I followed these directions to the letter, which meant that as much as I wanted to, I could no longer take my usual extreme measures to lose weight, so I resorted to yo-yo dieting for years and years.
When I got married, my wonderful husband had to deal with an insecure, over-obsessive, angry person who refused to eat anything she didn’t know the exact calorie count of, or anything that had more than x percent fat content, or any kind of complex carbohydrate.
The obsession continued even as I found, or rather, re-connected with and began to fall in love with my yoga practice one more time, as I had practiced yoga for a very small time while in middle school…but that is another story for another time…ahem, I digress.
When I first reconnected with the practice, my entire focus was on weight loss and fitness.
I wanted to lose weight and be able to go to at least one audition with out feeling like the fattest human being alive. I wanted to go on a date with my husband and feel confident instead of spending every second comparing myself to other “skinny bitches” or mentally berating myself for eating that entre or dessert because I was a heifer who did not need the calories.
So, needless to say, I was a broken, sick little girl practicing yoga for all the wrong reasons.
Every morning, after an hour and a half of cardio or workout of some kind, I stepped onto my mat thinking I would be able to maybe one day look like Gwyneth Paltrow or Madonna because, hey, if they did yoga and looked that good, then the outcome should be the same for me.
I downloaded class after class onto my computer and even decided to practice twice a day on top of my workout routine.
Slowly, I began to feel something shift in me. I no longer woke up feeling irritable or depressed, my panic-attacks were gone, and my negative inner chatter had began to lessen. I went from morning sessions of internal abuse to moments of true love for the person I saw in the mirror.
I soon found a local yoga studio and decided I would join. I stopped doubling up on my yoga and decreased the amount of cardio I was doing—later, in fact, I cut out my other work outs all together because I felt better when I practiced than when I overexerted myself. I was still a mess, don’t get me wrong, but something I was not aware of was changing me at a cellular and spiritual level.
I was, however, moved by my ego once I saw all the lovely yogis in the class next door perform incredible, seemingly impossible feats…and this was how I stumbled across Ashtanga.
After a few months of practice, I decided to get ambitious and try to move at a more “advanced” pace—so, I started taking more “advanced” Vinyasa classes online, and I decided to try the Ashtanga class I kept hearing, and seeing so much about. I wasn’t quite sure what Ashtanga was, and since I had spent the first part of my yoga learning taking online classes with some awesome Vinyasa teachers, frankly, I thought maybe Ashtanga would be just some other type of flow class.I thought I could handle it, no problem. However,I had no idea just how demanding this particular practice would be, nor did I have an inkling as to the kind of journey this particular practice was going to take me on—which as it turns out, was one that would change my life forever.
From the moment I stood at the top of my mat and commenced the led primary, I knew something was happening.
Something magical and wonderful was happening as I moved—at what at that moment seemed annoyingly fast—from one pose to the next; I could feel my body truly breathe and stretch. I could practically hear my cells rejoicing as the practice gave them more and more life and energy.
And then after all the sweat, the movement, the breathing and even the mild grunting, savasana came—I found myself floating down an aggressive river, a river that brought out memories and emotions that I had, in my mind, left behind or pushed far, far away from me, where they could no longer touch me, no longer hurt me.
Yet somehow here, in this room filled with sweaty yogis, in this moment of what was supposed to be restful, all those memories and emotions found me and they tormented me, they harassed and beat me to the point of tears and anger.
So when the teacher brought us out of savasana, I swore to never again take another Ashtanga class again.
I spent the rest of the evening complaining about how wrong that class had been and how ridiculous the sequencing was and how it was impossible to keep any kind of breath control when you were moving so damn fast. I felt raw and exposed and I hated feeling inferior to the many other yogis who had performed unimaginably difficult tasks with out so much as breaking a sweat. I was done!
The next morning, however, as if someone other than myself was controlling my body, I found myself back in the studio, ready for another Ashtanga-led primary to begin. I remember thinking I was a masochist, I almost made myself walk out the door right as the teacher walked in and said, “Come to the top of your mats”.
Once more, the flow took me straight into that river of anger and sadness, but this time, there was something else lying just below the surface and I wanted to see it, wanted to get to it, thought if I was able to reach it I may be safe. But alas, I was not ready, and so, as if stuck in a perpetual state of dejavu.
I left the studio and the class in a fury.
This went on for a couple of weeks, every week, I returned to that class, and every week I left feeling angry and irritated. Every week I questioned what I was doing and every week I was taken to the very edge of my emotions, only to be pulled back just short of salvation.
After a few weeks of this seemingly masochistic ritual, I noticed I had stopped counting calories. Me, the queen of obsession, I had relinquished control and had been eating like a normal person for weeks without even noticing. I had consumed carbohydrates and enjoyed a full meal without once wondering what the fat content or the calorie count had been. I had gone on dates with my husband without constantly asking him how fat I looked or stating how ugly and worthless I was. I had stopped pinching fat and screaming at myself and I had begun to live life.
That was the lovely gift I found below the surface of that river of emotion after a particularly short savasana one morning. I had seen myself as I was, a beautiful being filled with love, joy, courage, strength and many, many lovely imperfections and quirks that—contrary to what I had thought—made me unique and priceless, not worthless.
I saw an amazing, radiant being standing right in front of me, I knew she was me, and I opened my arms and said,
“I am sorry. You are worthy of my love, you are worthy of life, and I will never ever push you aside again.”
And then I hugged myself, weird as it may sound; I hugged myself, and loved myself and became aware of myself in that moment.
I understood at a cellular and spiritual level that all the things I had been holding on to, all the emotions the memories the events I had been pushing through all those weeks had been placed there to help me heal. To help start a new cycle of regeneration and creative development that would allow me to finally embark on the greatest journey of all—living.
Living as I had never let myself live before, as my insecurities and obsessions had kept me from for so long—I had literally been through the Ashtanga Yoga Chikitsa.
I had been allowed to see things as they were, to live things fully, to fall into a state of awareness that, though not perpetually present (as I still have much growth to undergo) was the beginning of a regeneration, a growth in the deepest parts of who I am. The seedlings of the tree of yoga had been planted, and along with them, a new beginning and a new story were taking place.
I will forever remember this time in my life as the time of internal rebirth, and I have always cherished this practice and will always cherish this practice because of it.
No matter what new lessons the practice brings my way, no matter what form those lessons may take (be it through an Ashtanga class, or a restorative class, an Anusara class, or even as I am practicing off my mat ) I will be there to let it guide me deeper still,
I will let my practice grow and heal and move through all it needs to move me through so that I may always be aware of how immensely wonderful I am, and how precious life is.
Sapha Arias: Falling in love with yoga was Sapha’s destiny from the second she stepped onto her mat for the first time in 2008. From this moment on, Sapha began to study as much as she could about yoga, researching and reading endlessly. In this search for knowledge and growth, she realized her practice was more than just asana; it was a direct route to self-discovery and connectivity to every aspect of her self. It was at this point that Sapha began a deeper journey into the heart of yoga and the ability to open up to grace. Feeling joyous about having found the gift of yoga, Sapha feels deeply called to share this practice, and its many lessons with others, and completes her 200 hr yoga teacher certification with Lex Gillan at The Yoga Institute of Houston Texas in 2011. Sapha is now a vinyasa yoga teacher at Cherry Blossom Yoga in Spring TX, Houston Yoga & Ayurvedic Wellness Center in Cypress TX and Lifetime Lake Houston in Humble TX. She remains forever the seeker and the student of this practice and wants nothing more than to share the gift of yoga and all its lessons with the world.
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Assistant Ed: Terri Tremblett/Ed: Bryonie Wise
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