Yoga wasn’t cool when I started….
I read a well-written post by dear friend Christina last night – one that she wrote months ago and was published in Elephant Journal. It made me reflect on my own yoga journey…as I could see where she was coming from and why she wrote this…and wondered how true was this for me – especially as someone who taught yoga for a living.
My introduction to yoga was at age 4 by my babysitter Mrs. Somlock. She had a big nose and short blond hair and was in her 70s. She took lots of herbal pills and wore ballet slippers and a leotard in the house and we always had to bail her daughter Donna out of jail. Donna smoked cigarettes. I was Mrs. Somlock’s sounding board because there really wasn’t much else for me to do at age 4. I knew she just needed to talk a lot. One time I saw her cry and gave her a hug. She wore a locket of a picture of a man who was very young and handsome – slightly older than the age of my brother it seemed (he was 14 years older than I was) and he had been her husband who died in the war. I think she still missed him.
We did yoga before Sesame Street was on. All I remember is the butterfly pose. I would never dare begin to say that my yoga started at age 4 though I did eat my first tofu then.
I also did yoga practices with my cross-country coach. But he wasn’t very cool and the practices seemed geriatric and even in my 15 year-old mind I knew that we needed other kinds of stretches as teenage girls, not as a 55-year old man with a paunch.
By that age I’d already been delving into work with witchcraft, psychics, shamanism and I met my first medicine man. None of these things were cool and I kept very quiet about my explorations. I liked the medicine man I had met – Ceasar was his name – because we did simple practices to connect with the earth and I built and sat in my first sweatlodge and learned to clean my body with rocks and clay. He told me I was Spider.
In my teens I also started delving into plant medicines because I knew that there was another portal somewhere.
By age 17 I’d lost 35 pounds in 3 months. I was in an abusive relationship with a guy who made me pay for his cigarettes, food and alcohol (of course I agreed to this) who’d force me to have sex with him whenever he wanted and would hit me when he was drunk. He kept tabs on me at all times. With all that had happened before in my life that I never really dealt with combined with this current guy, it seemed easiest to cope by not eating and if I did eat – throw it up OR make sure that the majority of calories were alcohol so I didn’t have to be here. I’m not sure how I graduated with a high grade point average and a scholarship to college. I was a walking ghost.
Of course my mom was at odds with me – I was at odds with the entire world including myself. I’d pray at night to sleep and never wake up. I remember my boyfriend and I went to church one time because we knew how we treated one another was messed up and I knew that I would die soon if I kept going like this. I had gone to the doctor the week before and my heart was in massive trouble.
I also knew somehow that I just needed to get away from everyone and college was the perfect answer. I watched some Sunday afternoon flick a month before leaving and some guy was meditating and chanting and I decided that I was going to do that to heal. The out-patient hospital wasn’t working.
When I started yoga it wasn’t cool. Social media and Skype didn’t exist and internet only happened with a modem. AOL was still alive and kicking. It was 7 years before I got my first cell phone.
Classes were gentle and more meditation-based. Whether I was practicing in Boston, St.Louis, Arkansas, or Thailand – it was usually me and the older women. People a bit on the fringe. Some places were a little bit of a cult. Yoga pants weren’t a thing.
I didn’t do yoga because I thought it was cool. In fact a couple friends made fun of the fact that I meditated. So I kept quiet about that. But it was a personal practice that finally gave me a way to come home to myself. I loved how simple it was – especially meditation. That I could sit with Patricia, my teacher who spent 7 years in a cave (I had so many questions that I never got to ask her about that) and we would just sit with the breath. We also worked with sensations and that’s when I discovered how to discharge healthily a lot of my old pain. I loved that we didn’t have to have big discussions…that I could sit and that was enough and the truth unraveled itself perfectly as I was ready to digest it. No one told me to start exercising less (I used to exercise a minimum of 4 hours/day) I just found that by sitting my body started craving healthier patterns. And no one in my sangha talked about the fact that I didn’t eat. It was on my first silent retreat that I told my teacher that my intention was to learn how to eat again – and we did it quietly and by me not thinking about the food and just tasting it. She actually offered me little instruction. Just the space of silence and routine gave me the ability to find my health again. (I’m not saying this would work for everyone..and I think the reason why it worked was that by this time I was so desperate to step out of my madness).
The very first time I sat when I was 17 I realized I was the world and one with everything. It seemed so obvious that I didn’t realize I hadn’t noticed it before. My artist’s eyes woke up because I saw the magic in light, color, and pavement and I felt a kinship and urge to stay connected to the people – even strangers around me. I went from never wanting to being touched to getting hugged all the time which was new for me.
I didn’t own a yoga mat until 2004. Until then I practiced on the ground or carpet, indoors or outdoors. My practice was very personal. In Niger I taught the Nigerians who asked me to help them meditate how I meditated…but it was just a sharing of how to work with the mind and not be so crazy. The imams near me didn’t think of me doing a separate practice. We were all getting to God in our own ways.
In Thailand I would go to the caves daily and practice there. Again, I told no one about it. It was just my way to go inwards and find my steadiness and feel my own wiring. It wasn’t until 2002 when my teacher told me to start teaching others that I did. And my motivation? That there were some practices that I learned that were simple and powerful that made me go from wanting to leave this planet to wanting to stay. Wanting to stay and share this delight that I had and also knowing that we all have our own way.
I never worried if I was or wasn’t Indian or Native American or indigenous or…insert whatever. I wasn’t looking for my identity in another culture. In a way, my bloodlines are always confused as I have so many different kinds running in my veins. But to me it’s always been obvious. Everyone is my brother and sister and so are the plants and animals and dirt. I am what I am.
When I moved to Bali it wasn’t for a search. I had been living in Boston again in my early 20s and got tired of getting snowed in. I had always promised myself that I would see the world more when I came back from Thailand in 2002, that I knew at some point I wouldn’t want to travel so much. My pleasure with travel has always been to see the threads of similarities between people. The heart underneath that connects us. I’ve never had an issue connecting. And that to me verified this oneness that we share. So my favorite thing was to meet all the beautiful variations of the self that would show up around the world.
The moment I decided I was ready to travel, a week later I was offered a job teaching a yoga training in Japan out of the and flew to Tokyo. After staying there for a few months I decided to go to Bali on vacation before signing a year-long contract. And then I met Meghan Pappenheim and she asked me to manage the yoga studio and teach there..and the studio then was what is now a storage space above Kafe. 10 students were the norm –and 20 was an overpacked class. I picked Bali because back then it was very quiet. And that may have changed a bit over the years 🙂 but the magic is definitely still there.
Right now as I sit in this quiet beach town I cherish the simplicity. The generosity of the morning of listening to many different kinds of birds and distant waves. The present moment is so sumptuous. I don’t need to dress it up with some intellectual reasoning. I don’t need to show you how fabulous I am among this. I just like to sit alone and if you come along I will sit with you and then we can witness this majesty before us.