Updated: Feb 8, 2021
The Sanskrit definition of the word, “yoga” means union or connection. The practice of yoga encourages us to connect with our breath, while connecting with our body. This practice has allowed me to connect in spaces that were once unimaginable and unattainable to me – within my body through the asanas, or postures, and “off the mat”, in my everyday life.
My first yoga class was in the early 90s. I attended a hatha yoga class somewhere in the West Village. I was in my early 20s and exploring life and all that it offered. For this practice, Greenwich Village in New York City offered a curious mind a playground for exploration. I can’t say I quite got the concepts the instructor was sharing during that class or could execute a posture. I faintly recall lying on a mat in savasana, or corpse pose, on my back, legs outstretched, with my palms facing upward, thinking about what I was going to wear to work the next day. Not the usual yogic thoughts, but at that time, I had not mastered how to still my mind. Nevertheless, a seed had been planted.
A couple of years ago, I traveled to Brooklyn to attend the funeral of a neighbor from the block I grew up on. Mrs. Lee was one of my favorite people, ever. She and her husband are a beautiful couple. I enjoyed laughing at the playful banter between them. I always could feel their love and respect for each other and they were married over half a century.
My heart sank when I saw her lying in savasana. As I grew into my role as a mother and a wife, her pearls of wisdom were dropped intentionally and effortlessly during conversations sitting on her stoop, drinking a glass of wine in her living room or kitchen or sitting around the dining room table in the house I grew up in. Although I didn’t see Mrs. Lee often, I will miss her and I will pray for her husband. It is clear his heart and his spirit hurt beyond expression.
During the service, her sun and nephew, both successful filmmakers, talked about the influence her love of reading, her unwavering support and dedication to family had on them as artists. Their words brought tears to my eyes… not because it was her funeral, but because funerals remind us that our role in life is to serve and how others will describe our service at the end of our days is something I think about in a concentrated way at any funeral I attend. I wonder how my children and others will speak about me and the impact I will have had on them…a serious question to ponder and one that we often don’t think about during our lives….and the end is too late.
My next introduction to yoga was around 2002/2003. A friend invited me to attend a Bikram yoga class with her because she didn’t want to go by herself…she had been invited by a brotha she was digging and needed some sisterly support. I was happy to traipse with her to a Bikram class at dark thirty on Flatbush Avenue on Christmas Day. I had no idea what Bikram was and had only been instructed to dress lightly, bring a towel and water. I wore bike shorts, a t-shirt and sports bra. Bikram is practiced in a studio where the temperature is 104 degrees. Each pose is done two times and although there are only 26 poses, I quickly wished I had less clothes on. Despite my initial discomfort, I practiced Bikram for 5 or so years. Through this practice, I learned how to still my mind, to breathe to go deeper into a pose and how to really pay attention to my body as I maneuvered my muscles in a room heated to 104 degrees. I also learned how not to care about sweat and how cleansing breaths and heat work beautifully together.
At one point in my life, I practiced Ashtanga, or power yoga, on Sundays. It was a nice way to start off the week and stretch my muscles after a week of lifting weights. The instructor wasn’t great, but the class was convenient and at that time in my life, convenience reigned supreme.
I am committed to improving my health consistently. In order to keep my commitment to myself, I look for ways to exercise when I travel. There is a pre-COVID Vinyasa class I L.O.V.E. when I visit my mother in Durham. The class is taught by a woman with the most wonderful voice. The basic premise of Vinyasa yoga is that you move seamlessly from one pose to another, using the power of breathing. In essence, the instructor moves the class through a continuous flow of postures with synchronized breathing. It is challenging, yet fun. The reason I enjoy this instructor so much is that her voice is melodic and moving into the postures while she relates life’s movements to what is going on in class is a special gift; one I have come to realize that all instructors do not possess.
In June, 2018, I fell and sprained my knee which significantly decreased my range of motion. I was devastated for a few days, and then I remembered the healing power of yoga. I began to practice regularly a couple of months after the injury and slowly, but surely, I could see progress in my range of motion and flexibility. I used to practice weekly at my local gym. The instructor is good, although at times, her tone, as she utters, “Come off your knees, and move into downward facing dog, now HOLD!” reminds me of a drill sergeant. I affectionately refer to her style of teaching as “militarized yoga.”
Whatever your practice, on or off the mat, please be consistent with it. Consistency allows us the space to practice and modify and practice and modify endless times. I have realized that living is not about perfection – we all are imperfect – but rather, it is about making needle-point moves towards being better consistently. Practicing yoga is a very personal journey. How you connect to life on and off the mat is yours and only yours to experience. My yoga practice has taught me the power of setting an intention and focusing on it throughout a class or throughout the day. Yoga has also taught me that when I am in an asana that is initially uncomfortable, or a situation in life, that I can use my breath to relax and breathe through it…it will not last forever…nothing lasts forever. And, on the other side of the discomfort is freedom. I have also learned the power of flexibility; the ability to be flexible through life is power filled.
Enjoy this day and all that it offers. Remember to breathe deeply when you need to and to be flexible enough to be able to dig deeper as we move through the gift of life.