It’s a weeknight. My breath is steady and even.
The familiar smoke of heady incense invades my nostrils, choking out my thoughts.
Every inch of me is soaked; sweat streams down my body forming little pools on the floor beneath me. My body feels strong and still. I am trapped in time, l know exactly where I am, and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
For the next hour and a half I float from one asana to the next. My mind is calm and present. I find peace. I can feel the body heat of the person next to me, I hear the ocean breath of a whole sea of people breathing as one being, swelling in and out.
I’m not thinking about work, or money, or relationships, I’m not worried about my daughter, what other people think, I’m not planning my next move. I’m here, in this moment, just me and my yoga mat.
The outside world melts away like the smoke of the incense, curling up in an organic pattern before disappearing. If my mind wanders, I glance at my wrist, a black tattoo and a permanent reminder to “breathe.”
This is my church. This is my truth, my spirituality.
This is my yoga practice, and I’m always grateful for it. Here is where I can really be me. Here is where I find my true self. This practice has not always been easy. But with a kind heart, I remind myself that I am always stronger than I think. My body feels alive, my muscles taut and active. My blood feels clean and pure, my breath deep and steady. This is a practice that will never be finished. I am a student for life. I’ve never been this passionate about anything, but I know I belong here.
I started practicing yoga when I was 19. It began as a way to get in shape, and to offer some sort of penance to my body which I had been abusing heavily.
At 19 I was living with my boyfriend. We worked irregularly and partied regularly, sleeping little and indulging in absurd amounts of drugs and alcohol and fast food. I was just a teenager, yet my body felt depressed, sluggish, and used up. The catholic guilt etched into my genes said I should be taking better care of myself. I hated working out. I had no stamina.
Fifteen years ago, yoga was just catching on in Bend, Oregon. But I was curious, so I convinced a friend to accompany me at the local fitness center. The first class was humbling, the instructor forgettable.
We were beginners in a fast paced vinyasa class and stumbled our way through chaturangas, ardha chandrasanas and savasana. I savored the challenge. I began practicing once a week. I bought the cheapest mat I could find.
The chronic back pain I suffered from scoliosis faded away. I slept better. I felt better. I ate better. It felt good to live.
My friend stopped coming to yoga with me when “Ken Doll” started teaching. He was this petite, tan, taut, flamboyant man in short-shorts, and he was always glistening with sweat, or baby oil or something. I always stayed in the back of the class, hoping to stay out of his reach, yet he always found a way to correct me. Pretty soon I dreaded that little man and his feminine voice. I started practicing at home, where nobody could judge me. This is when yoga really became part of my life.
Three years into my practice I knew I wanted to share my passion. I found that so many people I knew were curious about yoga, but were intimidated. They felt if they couldn’t touch their toes, or curl into a graceful backbend that they couldn’t do yoga. They didn’t feel like they belonged in a studio that felt exclusive—they compared themselves to the countless skinny soccer moms in their shiny SUV’s and designer workout clothes.
I wanted to show people that anyone could share this practice. I was fighting my own battle of uncertainty and insecurity, and ultimately it took me another five years of practicing before I finally built up the courage and financial means to begin my training as a yoga teacher.
At age 26 I met an amazing teacher who became my mentor, an instructor at the community college. I started taking her class as a means to get out of the house—to get back in shape after having a baby, to center myself after months of sleepless nights with a newborn, to break away from the life I was developing as a mother and housewife.
I was in a relationship that left me feeling lost and alone, but I could always find myself on my mat. Dee was not a tiny toned twenty-something in name-brand sweats. She was a middle-aged married woman with dirty feet and a ratty t-shirt. But she broke through my walls and showed me the truth about yoga—that nothing else matters if you want to be here. That this practice is for every body: thick, thin, male, female, long, lean, old, young.
She showed me that to practice asana, we need only to have a flexible mind.
I finally found the courage to pursue my dream of teaching, and in April 2010 I started my training and taught classes to my friends in a studio I rented. That same year, I experienced a revolution that allowed me the freedom to leave my toxic relationship, and begin a journey into my own personal power.
When my body trembles with a steady strength of a new asana, or pose, I feel liberated. I can feel my practice growing and evolving as my lungs expand and contract. I am comfortable in my own skin, I relish in my curves, my strong legs, the way my forearms can support my entire body weight.
I have learned that I can do anything with enough practice. Poses I once thought were difficult now come with ease. I feel whole in my mind-body connection like a bright full moon, and I am a more conscious, compassionate being.
When I encounter difficulty on or off the mat, I surrender to my breath and let go.
Nothing in this life is permanent. But learning to surrender, allowing stress to run off my body like a tantric, sweaty, salty rain, finding power in the stillness.
This is where my spirit lives.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Shawna Reece
Apprentice Editor: Guenevere Neufeld / Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Author’s Own