I still remember my first yoga class. Well, it wasn’t actually my very first class. The very first one was at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, New Jersey in 1977. I had been a regular meditator for about 2 years and wanted to try out this new funky thing called yoga. I signed up for a semester and went to a handful of classes before dropping out. The only pose I remember doing in that class is Halasana (plow), because I remember looking around and seeing everybody’s butts up in the air. Well, yoga wasn’t for me then. I was a runner and very competitive, and I guess that particular class was very gentle. I wanted more. So I forgot about yoga and went back to running, doing nautilus, playing tennis, and taking high-impact aerobic classes (which I would ride my bicycle to over in the next town and yes, it was 5 miles uphill).
Fast forward 20 years. It’s 1997 and I’m no longer running (I hated it every time I went out there) or doing aerobics (it faded into the past along with the 1980’s). I had recently gotten married and immediately knew it was a mistake. Actually, the red flags were waving high and bright before the wedding, but I later came to realize that when you want something badly enough, you can easily ignore the warning signs. I was a very angry person then, and at times I acted out in fits of pure, primal rage. Of course, this anger had been brewing over the years, it was nothing new and certainly not caused solely by a bad marriage. One time years before, a boyfriend picked me up by my belt loops and threw me out the door into a rainy night after watching me throw a glass across the room, barely missing my baby. But sadly, that was who I was. An Angry Woman.
Back to 1997. A yoga studio had opened up in my town and I decided to revisit the notion of trying it out. I needed an outlet for my sadness and frustration and wondered if yoga would help. Truth be told, I still had a competitive edge and knew that Madonna practiced yoga (she had great biceps!), and I thought maybe it could make me look buff. (Aside–I later met the physician who shared a practice with her physician, and he told me her biceps were cosmetic implants. Folklore? Maybe).
My first class was a 90-minute intermediate Iyengar class. I didn’t know how to breathe; in fact, I didn’t know that I didn’t know how to breathe. I had no strength. My hands didn’t come close to the floor in a forward fold. Chaturanga? Forget about it, my body felt glued to the floor. Down Dog? My arms quivered and my legs wouldn’t straighten. Core work? I thought I was going to vomit. But the most amazing thing was that when I went home later, my anger wasn’t with me. The stress I constantly felt when I walked into my house just wasn’t there that day. So I went back for another class. Then another. I soon realized that the motivation that brought me to the mat was so different than what kept me returning to it.
Over time and as I became more familiar with the aspects of yoga that talk about “the witness”, “being mindful,” and “letting go,” these all became tools I could draw upon to stay calm at home. And I didn’t have to try very hard, it was just there inside me. I could look at my husband, watch his anger, his self-imposed misery, and his attempts to draw me into it with him, and remove myself from his craziness. I didn’t have to engage. I could actually feel compassion and love towards this person and keep myself whole in the process. Several years and much soul-searching later, I divorced, de-toxified my home, got all new furniture, and met the real man of my dreams. And I am ever grateful for my yoga practice–with its wisdom, compassion, and teachings–to guide me through those very difficult times and out the other side. I can truly say that yoga is the glue that holds me together.