In yoga years, I am 30. 30 years of: Hatha, Vinyasa, Iyengar, Jivamukti, Mysore Ashtanga, Restorative, Yin/Yang, Pranayama, Meditation. I've practiced and taught an integration of them all now for 17 years.
the year I started my practice
I always wanted to have a blog called “What I learned in yoga this week/month/year,” because yoga is experiential. Instead, I thought that now is a good time to reflect on 30 years of practice, starting at the beginning of my yoga journey. Everyone who treads this path has one. In the realm of what comes first, it’s definitely practice before teaching.
1987: First year
I am in college. Walking along West Franklin Street, I discover The Yoga Room, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Until then, I used to dance, do aerobics, jog. My step-grandmother Jan had shown me a few sun salutations. Yoga was not as widespread.
At the Yoga Room, a second floor converted office space, we practice Hatha. As my cells pulse and vibrate in the poses (then and now), I feel recharged on a deep level, and my mind more at peace.
In my first class, Hannah, the teacher, who looks Swedish, says: “Yoga is the only thing I’ve personally found as good as, or better than, sex.” Hearing this at any age is promising. As a sheer beginner, it was empowering that one could independently create, at any time, an immense feeling of invigorated wholeness, pleasure, and healing in the body just from a yoga practice.
I appreciate the tone that yoga offers the muscles, the stretch of the limbs, and the low impact on the bones and joints. You move your own body weight. From the very first class, I know that I will be a lifelong practitioner. Once a week classes soon become two to three classes a week. I feel like a new person, more cohered.
Kyle McLachlan and Laura Dern come to class regularly at The Yoga Room while they are in residence at the Paul Taylor Theater. I must be in the right place (I am acting in the student LAB theater at the time).
Another interesting marker of this first year in yoga: I am surprised to find that I have, almost without noticing, stopped drinking, taking drugs, and eating meat. In high school, I drank until I passed out, took enough MDMA not to sleep for days, and ate enough fast food for eight lifetimes, it seemed. No one told me to stop any of these things, but after a short time with the yoga practice, I found that my body didn’t want them all that much. Yoga became one of my first pro-choices. The practice itself led me to make changes that I wasn’t even trying to make, and I recognized that I had a choice. I could, more often, choose what my body and mind really wanted. There was something inherent in the practice that yielded me to realign my choices towards a better equilibrium. It was only later that I learned the often harmful and environmental ramifications of, for example, the US meat industry.
Regarding Hannah’s idea that yoga is as good as or better than sex, I think anyone who practices would agree that it’s right up there with the best of the human physical experiences. Your pranic life force is invigorated, your circulation is increased, your mind steadied, and your heart and soul open.
I would add that yoga is a path of love. That’s what I get out of my practice tonight. Distressed from the day, I enter the same 5th floor loft belonging to Iyengar-based Genny Kapuler, where I’ve practiced 20 of my 30 years. After 30 years of adho and urdhva mukha svanasanas, tadasanas, trikonasanas, warriors, arde chandrasanas, sirsasanas, supta baddha konasanas, savasanas, my body wakes up to bloom in these shapes.
When I leave 90 minutes later, I feel 360 degrees better, lungs expanded, skin stretched, muscle fibers ignited, bones realigned, eyes restored, mind quieter, and therein, my soul. I feel loved, regenerated, opened up.
Hannah would leave Hatha Yoga handouts for us to take after every class, with descriptions of the asanas, and stick figure line drawings. I still have some of those handouts, a treasure, even now. I knew nothing much about Hannah at the time, though I had admired her grace and stamina. I looked her up some years later, after moving to New York, when I was thinking about becoming a teacher, but she’d moved on, and so had The Yoga Room.