To celebrate yoga awareness month I decided to share key experiences and milestones on a 5-year yoga journey. Unlike other practitioners, I started late — and wish yoga had found me many years earlier.
Yoga DVDs and Books
My sister Judi encouraged me to try yoga 10 years ago. She gave me a sweet book, A Morning Cup of Yoga; sadly, it languished unread for several years.
I wasn’t ready to take up a practice that demanded discipline, not even the simple 15-minute routines proposed by A Morning Cup of Yoga.
My sister knew I was suffering chronic back pain, aggravated by cervical disk degeneration, and was spending too much time and money on physical therapy. So she kept pushing me to try yoga, and proposed various ways to get started.
She suggested instructional yoga DVDs by well-known teachers such as Rodney Yee. After much prodding, I invested in a cheap mat and a DVD or two. Out of boredom, perhaps, I stumbled through yoga poses several times a week, watching DVDs played back from a Mac laptop propped on some bedroom furniture.
This was enough to break the ice, but not enough to keep me going (or keep me out of alignment trouble!) Once in a while I caught a glimpse of what yoga might offer, but this solitary self-guided practice did not provide enough motivation to keep me going on a sustained basis.
Meanwhile I was getting older, heavier and increasingly out of shape. My back and neck pains demanded daily doses of ibuprofen to keep me moving. It wasn’t always easy to get out of bed in the morning.
Yoga En Provence
In early 2008 some former Apple friends invited me to join them on a weeklong yoga retreat in southern France. They enticed me with images of yoga in Provence, the joys of France in late June, the enchantment of a village perché.
Each day of the yoga retreat would feature 4 hours of practice led by an Anusara teacher they were bringing from their California studio. Not knowing how out-of-shape I was, they assured me I’d have no trouble keeping up with the class…
Plus, we’d get to stay in a charming medieval village perched on a hilltop in Provence. As a long-term francophile, this travel opportunity caught my attention. I love France, and am passionately fond of French cuisine, cheeses and wine.
In my naïveté I said yes — having no idea what I was signing up for. Everyone else on the retreat, except for the teacher’s mother, was an experienced yoga practitioner. They had all been practicing for 3 years or more, knew the poses, knew how to breathe — and were both strong and supple.
None of these things described my situation. I was unskilled, weak, and very inflexible. Luckily, I’d been an athlete as a young woman, which proved to be a saving grace when trying to survive a retreat for which I was supremely unready…
After seeing my total inexperience, the teacher stuck me in a back corner with his equally unskilled mother. From time to time he’d venture back there, and give us basic instruction. He was a great teacher.
The weather was brutally hot — mid-90s every day — and there was no air conditioning. We hiked a mile each way to the yoga studio, including steep hill climbs back to our hilltop hotel. I spent the week covered with sweat, and could barely keep from slipping off the mat from one pose to the next. My hands or feet slipped out from under me on more than one Downward Facing Dog.
Despite the many challenges, I found moments of joy in some of the poses. On my last day I achieved an assisted handstand for a moment or so. The community of yoga practitioners was welcoming, willing to overlook my ineptitude. They gave me a glimpse of what yoga has to offer…
The overall experience was just good enough to persuade me to sign up for classes when back home in the Seattle area.
Yoga Classes in Seattle
Having enjoyed the Anusara instruction in Provence, I looked for Anusara teachers in Seattle, and was lucky enough to find a wonderful studio at Seattle Yoga Arts.
For the next several years I relished in the terrific instruction and wonderful yoga community at SYA, until worsening Seattle traffic and parking hassles motivated me look for more convenient alternatives.
I bounced back and forth between several Eastside studios, YogaBliss on Mercer Island and Village Green Yoga in Issaquah. The latter has a warm and welcoming community. It also features small classes where you can get hands-on alignment correction or guidance in almost every class. It was a great place to refine my practice. Both studios have great teachers, and a good selection of class styles and levels.
I took some private classes with an inspired (and inspiring) yoga teacher who refined my poses and pushed me to build more core and upper body strength. Diana Gould Bonyhadi made a huge difference at a critical juncture in my practice last year. Unfortunately, her teaching studio was a long drive from my home, and ultimately required more time during working hours than I could sustain. So I switched back to the studio that was 10 minutes from home.
YogaBliss offers several types of vinyasa flow classes, with an emphasis on Power Vinyasa Yoga, but also offers hot yoga for people who want to sweat heavily while practicing yoga. (I’ve tried but am not a fan of hot yoga — too much like gym for my tastes.) I’ve indulged in an unlimited pass, and now take classes with several gifted teachers.
5 Years Later
These days I combine regular classes several times a week with a dedicated home practice. Unless I’m traveling, I practice yoga at least 5 times weekly.
It’s made a huge difference to my physical and mental wellbeing. Although not overtly spiritual, I’ve begun learning meditation to supplement (or nourish) the yoga asanas.
Friends say I look much younger. I certainly feel better. My chronic back and neck pains disappeared a year or so ago, after 20 years of unwelcome presence in my life. I’ve dropped several clothing sizes — even though weight loss was not a driving motivation for practicing yoga. My doctor says X-rays no longer show scoliosis (curvature) in my neck.
I feel much calmer and more centered, more prepared to handle whatever life wants to send my way. Yoga keeps me present and grounded. It has helped me grieve and celebrate my mother’s contributions (she died a few months ago).
I’ve learned that it’s important to practice yoga wherever you are — from hotel rooms to vacation stays — even on the deck of the sailboat we chartered in Desolation Sound last week. I practice off the mat, too, especially when doing things I don’t otherwise enjoy, like washing dishes or vacuuming.
Places Where I’ve Practiced Yoga This Year
I’ve been blessed to practice yoga in a number of beautiful places this year, from Cape Cod to Mexico, from Barcelona to Desolation Sound (Canada). Over the past year I’ve enjoyed 2 yoga retreats led by SYA’s wonderful teacher, Elizabeth Rainey. She led memorable retreats in Sayulita, Mexico, and Sleeping Lady in Leavenworth, WA.
When unable to take classes or motivate myself to plan my own routine, I take online classes offered by YogaGlo. Although the production values can be disappointing, YogaGlo features some top-notch yoga teachers and hundreds of great classes.
Here’s a pictorial sampling of my past 12 months of yoga venues, from yoga retreats in Sayulita, Mexico, and Sleeping Lady (Leavenworth WA) to the foredeck of a sailboat in Desolation Sound… And an at-home class with YogaGlo.
Among the lessons I’ve learned is to practice yoga regularly but mindfully, wherever life takes you. Enjoy the beauty of your surroundings, the beauty of your companions in life — and breathe in the beauty of a regular practice.
Everyone in your life will thank you for it.