January 16, 2008

My Path To Yoga - By Janet Mullet

Eight years ago, I spent an evening complaining of chronic neck pain, bad posture and general lumpiness, lamenting a dissatisfaction and rootlessness in my life. My friend responded by inviting me to join her for yoga. It was a small class in the attic of a church, and from the first sun salutation I knew I’d found something special. The combination of physical exertion, mindfulness, and respect for individuality drew me in. My commitment was erratic – I’d go each week for a couple months, then skip several weeks as life got busy, pick it up again, and then lapse – and still, yoga made me feel better. When we bought our first house, I stopped going for almost six months. To my surprise, I found that I really missed it, that I had started to develop an awareness of my body and to appreciate the increased mental clarity. I discovered Tracy’s classes at this point, and dedicated myself to the mat with renewed vigor.

I’ve now been practicing with Tracy for four & a half years, starting with one class a week, then twice per week, and adding a daily home practice about two years ago. Each increase in frequency has made a huge difference – being able to repeat an exercise from class at home, experiment with balance or rotation or extension, makes all the difference in the intellectual and instinctive understanding of each pose. Over time, my home practice has become a living thing, as I learn more about asanas and their effects on body and mind. I’ve discovered how to tailor my practice to my mood, level of energy, particular injuries or discomforts. Mantras heard first in class have become old friends, repeating “I breathe in compassion, I breathe out and release fear” as I work through difficult poses – or difficult times. I’ve learned to be comfortable in my skin, both with greater physical grace and deeper compassion. I am calmer, more patient (though that’ll never be one of my strengths!), and more generous. My sense of place in the world, in ‘the family of things’ is stronger than ever, and I am learning every day to be present in the moment. This summer, I spent a weekend at Kripalu, a yoga center in western Massachusetts, and was amazed by the ease of joining their practice, by how well Tracy had prepared me to be open to new ways of thinking, and by the strong sense of belonging to the world that was physically present in my chest.

The poses still aren’t easy – I discover something new in every class – and I struggle along with my fellow yogis to improve, breathe, and deepen. I am determined to be able to stay in a lunge endlessly, to develop a handstand away from the wall, to release all judgment about my body and my life. Each class inspires me, challenges me, and grounds me, providing new possibilities for my home practice, which reinforces our collective work and builds strength as nothing but repetition can.

The community I’ve found in class is warm and welcoming, and I enjoy sharing our journey as much as I value my personal growth. The gentle support of peers provides a strong platform on which to stand. Tracy’s leadership is invaluable, setting the tone for everyone who participates – and she has an uncanny way of targeting my particular issues each time, so that I feel as if she’s speaking directly and only to me as she guides our fluid and challenging classes, though I think all of us probably feel that way.

Discovering that yoga is a journey, mind and body together, has enriched my life in ways I never could have imagined those eight years ago, and I believe that I’m still only at the beginning of this path.