I took my first yoga class when I was 21 years old. I was a professional dancer, and one of my coworkers brought me to a power yoga class. I loved it! I had never done anything like it before. The teacher was a strong, positive, and inspiring man, and his energy was exactly what I needed when working in the hypercritical world of professional dancing. After the class, I felt exhilarated and optimistic. I continued practicing power yoga for many years. I would end my long days in the rehearsal studio, where I was pushing my body to extremes and receiving constant feedback to improve and change, by going to yoga class and just being. At yoga, the instructors focused on accepting who you are and where you are. Can you imagine how refreshing and restorative it was to have a space that focused on loving yourself exactly as you are? After years of training to strive for the unattainable, perfection, I learned self-acceptance and self-love through my yoga practice.
I continued to practice power yoga, until one day I tried something new. I went to my first vinyasa class in New York City, and it opened a whole new world for me. Vinyasa yoga felt like dancing! Through this practice, I was able to move and flow and express myself more freely. Instead of transitioning from one asana to the next, I was connecting each asana, threading them together as if telling a story with each movement. How could I feel like I was dancing a full piece of choreography without ever moving off my yoga mat? I began to refer to my yoga mat as my portable rectangular dance floor. As a kid, one of the reasons I fell in love with dancing was because I felt like I could fully express all my feelings without saying a word. And I experienced the same feeling in my vinyasa yoga classes. What a gift to be able to process and express feelings such as pain, frustration, anxiety, love, and joy through moving my body.
I was receiving all the benefits of yoga, and I was fully connecting to myself through the experience, but I didn’t really get into the meditative aspect until I was 18 years into my practice. In fact, I remember I used to lay in savasana at the end of class, and I would make shopping lists in my head. I figured my body was resting, so it was the perfect time for me to relax while also mentally organizing the rest of my day. This really aligned with my New Yorker, type A, state of doing. I didn’t explore what it was to just be until I was seeking solace after a painful breakup. I was in a low place, and to keep myself feeling hopeful, I had Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday in heavy rotation. Super Soul Sunday became the backdrop of my life. My spiritual practice was inspired by listening to the conversations Oprah had with a diverse group of seekers. I began to read all their books, to reflect on who I was and where I was. I journaled, and I began deep self-study so I could learn what my patterns were and how to break free from them. I began to understand that what was happening in my life was there to teach me and to move me in a new direction. My faith was restored.
It was during that time that I discovered Oprah and Deepak had created 21-day guided meditations. They were exactly what I needed. Giving myself the time and space to sit in stillness was incredibly healing. After I meditated, I would feel like I could do this. I had myself, and I could figure out my next right move, and I would be ok. That’s what meditation gave to me. Oprah said it best, “Knowing that stillness is the space where all creative expression, peace, light, and love come to be is a powerfully energizing, yet calming experience. Only from that space can you create your best work and your best life.” I feel that and I know that to be true. Now I meditate in silence. And even if my mind wanders all over the place during meditation, I feel a sense of clarity from the experience. I feel more connected to my intuition. Instead of getting stuck in the busyness of my mind’s indecision, I feel a sense of knowing. Deepak described, “Prayer is your speaking to God, meditation is allowing the spirit to speak to you, but it speaks in silence and it then manifests as intuition, inspiration.”
Something else I learned from Oprah is that everyone wants to feel seen, heard, understood, and like what they say matters. I feel that deeply. And in all my relationships, and when I am teaching, I want the people with me to feel that from me. I see you. I hear you. I understand you. You matter. And of course, I want to feel that in return. But what I am exploring on my mat today is to fully empower myself, to fully know my worth and not allow my self-perception to be swayed by the opinions of others or my own self-doubts. My work today is to unconditionally love who I am and where I am, and to live fully grounded in this: I see me. I hear me. I understand me. What I say and who I am matters.
What I have grown to understand is that my practice on the yoga mat is my practice for how I want to be in my life. On my mat, I practice grace. I practice self-compassion. I practice forgiveness. I practice love. I practice letting go. I practice non-attachment. I practice acceptance. My yoga mat has been my dance floor, my therapist, my retreat. My yoga practice reminds me every day, that I have my breath, and my body, and my connection, and so I have everything.
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