My entry into yoga was probably like many in that I took a class, loved it, got an amazing intro deal for more yoga, and after seven straight days I was hooked. Seven years have passed since that first class. While I don't stretch as routinely as I'd like to these days, yoga still plays (and has played) a major role in my life.
I know it sounds incredibly new-agey to say this, but yoga transformed my life. On the one hand, it brought me to have a greater awareness of my physical body in addition to expanding my mind's concept of self, community, and the world. But I also credit yoga for inspiring me to travel to some incredible places, encouraging me to accept a couple of great job opportunities, and leading me to love. You know, life changing stuff.
From a physically flexible sense, I was destined to eventually find yoga. Growing up, I had what a doctor referred to as 'multi-directional instability.' My knees and elbows hyperextended, I could bend my thumb back to touch my arm, and (the real crowd-pleaser) I could link my hands behind my back and while keeping them together, bring them over my head and to the front. Kinda like a human jump rope, or a female Gumby. Uber flexible.
In senior year of high school, my shoulders began slipping out of their sockets randomly. I didn't think much about it when I could easily pop them back in. But then came the days when I couldn't readily re-locate them, and I landed in physical therapy. As I remember it, the consensus was that I could have surgery to shorten the ligaments holding my arm bone in my shoulder socket, but that it would only last for a couple of years before they lengthened back out and I would face the same problem. Learning to strengthen those ligaments was key. I did shoulder exercises, wore an uncomfortable butterfly brace, and had my scapulae taped to my back. The combination of therapeutic approaches were working, and I resisted the urge to show off my circus routine. My shoulders were staying in their normal range! But shortly into my regimen I broke my collar bone playing soccer and never returned to therapy.
Fast forward nine years to 2008.
In yoga class, my flexibility claimed that I wasn't as much the freak show, but the 'natural.' However, I quickly learned that my inclination to perform yoga poses by relying on my overly flexible joints was not sustainable, and that I was setting myself up for a repeat of my shoulder dislocations in addition to other injuries. My teacher at the time would call me out for 'smoking my joints' in class every time I'd cheat in hyperextension. So I worked on strengthening once again.
My body definitely became stronger, and simultaneously, my mind was getting a workout. The style of yoga I was first attracted to was Baptiste Power Yoga. Their website describes the methodology as "encouraging participants to reclaim their full potential, discover creativity, awaken passion, and create authenticity, confidence and new possibilities." Each class was like a life coaching session. Somehow the day's theme would resonate with me on a soul level every time, and often tears of vulnerability mixed with the sweat of exertion. I felt a much deeper connection with myself and the community with each practice.
Oh the Places We Go
A couple of months into my newfound yoga obsession, I decided to enroll in the studio's first ever teacher training. Shortly after becoming certified, I traveled to Tulum, Mexico for additional training with Baron Baptiste, the founder of Baptiste Yoga. While there, we heard a presentation by Paige Elenson, the founder of Africa Yoga Project (AYP), and I was awestruck. Without thinking much about it, I approached her after her presentation and told her that I would love to travel to Kenya, where the project was based, and teach yoga. Despite her telling me that, in order to do so, I would have to commit to fundraising $5,000, I told her that I would see her in five weeks.
I gave myself five whole weeks to raise $5,000! The crazy part is that I never doubted that I could do it. And so I did it.
My first trip to Kenya solidified my desire to be more involved with AYP. (How could you not want to be involved with an organization whose mission is to 'bring wellbeing to the world'?) She took me to meet the yoga students and brought me around to the satellite locations where yoga classes were popping up - places like an open field; a small, dimly lit shack; an art school- all within the expansive informal settlements around Kenya's capital city. I went back to Florida after those two weeks committed to helping AYP anyway I could, so I became the fundraising/volunteer coordinator for the organization.
Over my next three years in the role, I traveled around the United States representing AYP at yoga conferences, and spreading the word about what was, at the time, best described as a grassroots organization. I met people doing amazing things and spent my personal vacation time taking yoga trips with some of them to places like Costa Rica and India. As a yoga instructor, I found myself not only leading classes in studios, but also overlooking the Futaleufu River in Patagonia, and on a live-aboard dive boat in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Yoga had me traveling the globe doing work that inspired me.
Can Somebody Get the Door?
If I listed out all of the wonderful friendships and 'coincidences' that came to be from my involvement with yoga, this post would be epically long. When I reflect about that time, it's clear that yoga met me at a point in my life when I was open to all possibilities, and would leap outside of my comfort zone with little hesitation.
In 2010, I headed back to Kenya for two weeks to work with Paige. Baron was traveling to Kenya to film a documentary about a teacher training that he offered to some of the yoga students in Nairobi. My dad had been so impressed at what was being accomplished within AYP that he joined me for my first week in Kenya to see everything firsthand. We visited the slums in Nairobi, met students and teachers in training, and went on safari in Amboselli.
I remember it like it was yesterday. Dad had flown back to the states, and I was staying at Paige's house. Everyone was getting ready to head out for work one morning when the doorbell rang. I, being the only one ready at the time, ran to get the door. (This is where the music would swell in a movie). There, standing before me, was the filmmaker who'd come to capture the next week in Kenya. We both smiled extra brightly, and I let him through the gate. He likes to say it was love at first sight, and I'd have to agree.
That was seven years ago.
Since then, a lot has changed - I moved to Asheville, we got married, I began working at a new job, we bought a home. I'm not currently teaching yoga, but I am enjoying being a student of the practice once again. And even though I haven't taken a yoga-centric trip in a long time, I still stretch every chance I get. Yoga now meets me at a point in life where I'm settling into a groove and exploring new dreams. It reminds me that no matter where I go on this journey of life, the beauty of this malleable practice will be a constant.