I remember rolling my shiny blue mat in front of a television screen for my first yoga class. There’s a kind of strange irony to that: to delve away from society, I was jumping straight into it. Yet when Bethany Frankel from Real Housewives of New York told me to go into Downward Facing Dog, I felt a connection with the outer world. Well, until the TV suggested I go buy some dumbbells and a Nordic Track after my workout. Then the connection broke just a little bit. However, when I laid down in that final Savasana, a sea of rejuvenation came sweeping over me, and I knew that I was done for. I had begun a yogi’s journey.
My relationship with yoga was meant to be simple. But, like any relationship, once you gain some familiarity, it becomes a strong presence in your life. My half hour on the mat became my two hours in Warrior and Down Dog. The source of my twenty-four hours of calm. It went from a form of exercise, to a lifestyle faster than I could even recognize the change. Once in a while, I’d catch myself taking a deep inhale that lasted about an eternity. Then I’d catch myself catching myself, and I’d laugh, because a good yogi knows to never take herself too seriously.
My friends often question my love for yoga; it is not a very common practice in a high school full of football fans and lacrosse stars. “Why yoga?” they ask, as though putting your palms together and chanting “om” is nothing to be excited about. Throughout my years as a student of yoga, my answer has always remained the same: “Why not?”
To me, yoga is like wringing out your muscles. It is wiping off a dirty surface of gossip, grades, and anxiety. Each time I fold myself into a pose, I am able to start fresh and reinvent myself. Even if I must return to the rest of the world as the girl I always was, it is less intimidating because yoga has made me at ease with that girl. The stretches I’ve learned have not turned me into a superhero; I recognize I am not perfect. I still make friendships messy, even if I’m the one trying to clean them up. Sometimes I’m the one to spill the gossip or ignite the competition in the first place. The difference is, I have given myself time to properly reflect on those messes. To consider what I can do differently next time. There will always be a next time, I realize, a second chance. Yoga has gifted me with a myriad of second chances.
I lost something silly a few years ago. Maybe it was an iPod, or a cell phone, or something a fifteen-year-old just could not live without. In my frantic state, I tore apart my room and yelled at a very shocked mother and cat. The cat understood the anger no more than I did. Why was this piece of technology so important to me? Why wouldn’t my heart quit thumping around my chest until I found it? I was in no immediate danger, yet my senses told me otherwise. I couldn’t breathe from panic. I wish I could have donated some of the excess breath I now have. It is astounding, how the two simple actions of inhaling and exhaling can significantly calm a person. I have lost many more equally silly objects. But somehow twisting myself into a pretzel has allowed me to see the big picture, and I breathe through the annoyance of forgetfulness. I don’t yell at innocent animal passersby either.
Last year, I lost someone not so silly. Other people could find him, but to me, he was blurry and distant. I breathed, albeit shakily, through the tears. That is the beautiful thing about yoga. It lets you remind yourself that this, too, shall pass. It can be smarter than the current self. I believed it to be the end, but yoga told me otherwise. To keep going strong.
I can try to drift away from the yoga practice. I have run for two blocks, and inched back home, dejected. I have danced and sung at the top of my lungs, but I keep coming back to yoga. I am a magnet to the strong, powerful poses because I wish to be a magnet to a strong, powerful life. The grounding poses bring peace to an otherwise hectic day. It is the best “me time” I have ever given myself. Yoga is not something I wish to master, then quit. I want to keep learning, keep trying poses I have previously swayed from (I hesitate to say “failed” because in yoga, there is no such thing as a perfect pose). I want yoga to stay with me for life. Yes, I will be one of those eighty-year-olds with saggy skin and no teeth, bending over into Downward Facing Tree. I watch those days approach with great anticipation, because I know I will still be at ease.
So, to those who are skeptical, who may ask the same question of “Why yoga?” I have a new answer — a quote by Ghandi — to ease those concerns: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” I credit yoga for why I’m ever-changing, for why I no longer lose it when I misplace an iPod. I have changed myself from unmoving, to always discovering, always learning, and always laughing and breathing while I continue this yogic journey.