When I meet someone new, a common question I’m asked is, “What do you do for a living?”
My answer? “I teach yoga.”
Aside from, “Oh you must be pretty good at it then” or, “I’ve always wanted to try yoga, but I’m not flexible enough,” one response I have such a hard time responding to is: “That’s like stretching and stuff, right?”
The modern day, Western assumption is that yoga, like everything else, is a skill. From the outside looking in, it appears to be nothing more than a series of funny looking postures that aide in flexibility and dissolve stress. I too thought yoga was that black and white. But from the moment of my first practice, I realized there’s so much more.
Yoga is about diving deep into yourself, getting to know who you thought you were, peeling back the layers of who you think you should be, and settling into who you really are.
Yoga is about feeling all the things, and letting those feelings be okay.
Yoga is about discovering the beautiful person you already are, and not hiding it from anyone.
Yoga is about having good days, and having bad days, and having days that are a little bit of both.
Yoga is about seeing yourself in others, no matter how angry they make you.
Yoga is about trying new things—things that scare you—and not becoming attached to the outcome of those things.
Yoga is about being honest.
So let’s be honest.
Yoga is not as glamorous as they make it seem on Instagram. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I’ve never sweat as much or cried as much as I have on my yoga mat—except for maybe in my therapist’s office.
When I say it’s about diving deep into yourself, I mean deep. I’ve run across things I thought I had buried pretty well. I’ve questioned my every thought, my every feeling, my every relationship, and every conversation I’ve ever had, all within the first Sun Salutation B flow.
And what’s strange is that it all feels great! I feel like I’m making progress; I’m becoming this new person, this better person.
Then I realize that my friends and family who aren’t on this path just don’t get it. When I tell them I had this amazing experience staring at myself in the mirror for eight minutes, their response is, “Why? That’s weird.” To them, my practice is just hippie stuff, and I’ve found they never want to hear my “yoga sh*t” advice.
But that’s okay. They don’t have to understand it—it’s not their journey. It’s mine.
Sometimes, yoga is lonely. It’s an individual practice, and what you experience on your mat will be completely different from what I experience on mine. I always tell my students that there is no right or wrong in yoga—there just is. Some days, I step on to my mat and am completely distracted by whatever it is that’s going on in my mind. I wonder why I even bothered. But then, there are other days that I step on to my mat and wonder how I will ever leave.
I’ve found, in my own practice, that the loneliness is actually the key to discovering who I truly am. I’m forced to ask myself, “Why do I feel this way? What is driving these feelings?” Nine times out of ten, it’s fear. Once I recognize my own fear, I am able to see it in others.
Once I can sit in front of the mirror and just look, I am able to see the sadness, the anger, the fear, the doubt, and the surrender rolling through the color of my eyes. And because I see it in myself, I am able to see it in others. I no longer feel alone.
Yoga is about oneness. We all have these same emotions swirling in our bodies, day in and day out. We all know what it feels like to be gut-wrenchingly sad or shout-it-from-the-mountain-tops happy. We may not have the same experiences in life, or come from the same circumstances, but we do all feel the same things. And those things I thought I had buried? Other people have them too.
Yoga has helped those things rise to the surface. Yes, it kind of sucks in the moment, but once I saw them I realized how silly it was to be holding on to them for so long—kind of like those skinny jeans I have tucked away in the top left corner of my closet shelf. Yoga is about purging my emotional baggage to make room for more emotional baggage.
Because here’s the thing: yoga is not a quick fix.
My problems are not solved once I step off my mat. It’s called a practice for a reason. Yoga takes time. And in a world that moves so fast, it’s hard for all of us to say we have the time. But if I don’t have time for myself, then what’s the point of doing whatever it is I’m doing?
And when I say yoga can be lonely, I don’t mean it in a “nobody likes me, I have no friends” kind of way. I’ve met people who are on the same journey as I am—and these people are the most kind, most generous, most compassionate, loving, supportive individuals on this planet. They’ve encouraged me to do the hard things, because they did them and they know what it feels like; and they know I’ll overcome the challenge, just like they did.
Yoga is hard. Life is hard. Yoga is training for life.
I wouldn’t teach it if I didn’t think people, or this world, could benefit from seeing each other with a bit more understanding. Do I teach yoga because I think I have it all figured out? Is my life perfect now, and am I happy all the time? No!
When I say I teach yoga, I mean I literally just repeat all the stuff that yoga has taught me. I still have my bad days. I still have moments of insecurity and doubt. I still question my every feeling, my every thought, my every relationship, and every conversation I’ve ever had. And sometimes, I do it from a place of judgment, because I’m not perfect.
But yoga is not about being perfect. Yoga is about balance. Yoga is about eating the kale, and also eating the pizza. Yoga is about finding acceptance in the world, in others, and most importantly, in yourself.
Author: Breanne Schoonhoven
Image: Author’s own
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Catherine Monkman
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis