How I Turned Into a Yoga Person

    Almost a year ago, I found myself standing in a Whole Foods in Boulder Colorado, wearing Birkenstocks, clutching my yoga mat and deciding between $10 jars of almond butter. In a moment of reflection, I froze and thought to myself, “Oh God, am I one of those people now?”

    I just never thought I’d be the type of person who did yoga, or ate almond butter, for that matter. I never thought I would buy into any of the stuff yoga teaches.

    But without thinking too hard about it, over the course of the past year, that is exactly what I have become.

    A month before the moment in Whole Foods, I went to my first hot yoga class in ten years. I had done yoga before. In high school, my aunt was a yoga teacher and would take my cousin and I to classes. As many women do, I dealt with an eating disorder and body dysmorphia in high school, and as a result, my relationship with yoga was not a healthy one. I viewed it as a way to burn calories. I didn’t enjoy it. I did it so I could get a workout in.

    My history with yoga was not one of self-discovery, grace, or acceptance. It was the opposite. So when I re-visited yoga a year ago, I didn’t expect to like it. But my roommate had invited me, it was free, and I was feeling stressed, so I thought it was worth a try. What did I have to lose?

    In that first class, I got frustrated and sweat my ass off. It was uncomfortable. It didn’t feel good.

    But for some reason, I went to another class. And another.

    I even paid for it when my free classes ran out. I started going before work and late at night. It began to feel okay, then it even felt good. Then things started happening to me mentally. I began to notice thoughts as they came in. I started paying more attention to where my head goes when it wanders, and to shifting my thoughts to things that are actually beneficial.

    I started being more present in my day to day life. I actively started trying to let things go that weren’t serving me anymore… things that I didn’t want to– or have to– walk with anymore. My yoga practice helped me give myself permission to let those things go.

    I challenged myself physically. I saw my muscles get more defined and watched myself get into poses I had scoffed at only months before. I touched my toes easily, something I had never in my life been able to do.

    I challenged myself mentally. I learned to focus on my breath not only in class but in life. I started to focus on presence without even trying.

    I realized that the principles of yoga are the same lessons I fought to learn my whole life. The same themes of resilience, self-care, kindness, and courage that I had tried so hard to teach myself were things that yoga was now reminding me of.

    When I did yoga as a teenager, I dreaded it. It was a place where I went to sweat and burn calories and judge myself.

    Yoga is now something I carry with me everywhere. It’s something I do when I seek peace and a place I go when I seek challenge.

    I turned into a yoga person slowly. Sometimes we build walls around ourselves to keep something out. I peeked over the wall I had built to close out things like yoga– things that were challenging, that I associated with judgment and “can’t.” I never thought I could be good at yoga, not realizing that there was no such thing.

    After that first class, some part of me recognized that yoga could be positive. That I could learn from it. So I chipped away at the wall. I created a crack where I could let light in. And I now stand where the wall once was, but doesn’t exist anymore. I let go of the judgement I had previously carried, and I found out just how heavy it had been.

    I became a yoga person by doing yoga. But to do it, I had to try something new. I would never have known I liked yoga if I let the wall stay where it was. I never would have tried it if I had let my expectations stay where they were.

    What walls have you built around yourself? Have you built them to keep out people and things you are afraid of, or intimidated by? Make just one crack in your walls. Let a little light in. You might surprise yourself. You might find yourself breaking them down completely, and standing in a field of flowers instead. But you will never know if you let the wall stand.

    I became a yoga person both accidentally and purposefully. What I have gained most is this: when we let go of our expectations, we make space for all the possibilities we could have never imagined.

    Photos by me, Jess Dales, Lee Tilghman and Austin Presas.