It feels great to walk into the yoga studio and be greeted by so many people. Even just a bow of the head feels like a mutual acknowledgement of our co-existence. To sit down at a plain wooden table, in a serene atmosphere and sip tea with a group of people and know that a community is being created feels empowering. As much as yoga is utterly personal about the journey inside and stillness; it is reassuring upon resurfacing to find a collective experiencing a similar path.
When I first tried yoga I was 10 years old. I went with my aunt, who happens to be a very devoted yogini. She was, at that time, enrolled in an advanced yoga class. I remember the feeling of walking into the classroom and seeing everyone decked out in their flowing yoga clothes, some women were sporting tight spandex and everyone was busy rolling out their mats or breathing. I was self-conscious and a tab bit overwhelmed. I had never seen yoga before and I had never heard of yoga. This was the summer of 1995. I grabbed a mat and placed it carefully next to my aunts mat and sat down not really sure what to do with myself. As the instructor walked in most people quieted their breathing. The instructor had everyone stand up. Slowly the fluid sound of Sanskrit flooded into my ears. I had no idea what any of the words meant, but I was careful to follow my aunt and try to keep up with the flow. The class was challenging and I came away feeling overwhelmed and intimidated by yoga. I thought my body wasn't built for yoga, especially after feeling like I had been in 'downward facing dog' for one minute. My breathe was all over the place and I felt frustrated. So I resigned to never do yoga again.
Fastforward to high school. I was 16-years-old and had a best friend addicted to trying out random excercise videos like Richard Simmon's "Sweatin to the Oldies," pilates, Tae Bo, and yoga. I humored her and participated in the, at times, incredibly absurd exercise regimen. We would do 30 minutes to one hour DVDs on the weekends for a few months. This time yoga was less of a struggle, but I still didn't feel like my body fit well with the postures/poses. It was mostly in my head. Being unable to embrace my past as a dancer, any movement that felt similar irritated me. I rushed through the poses and fell onto the floor in frustration and stayed stuck in my head, holding onto the past.
Fastforward to my university days and life in San Francisco, California, USA. Yet another best friend inspired me to give yoga another go. More videos were used thanks to Blockbuster and Netflicks and we went to a few night classes at our university, San Francisco State, which offered a free class at night every week. My friend and I took the class for a month or so. I was mainly a runner at this point and my childhood was spent locked away in dance studios, which I looked at mainly as forms of exercise than ways to destress, and grow through self-discovery. With this history I started yoga much the same way. I looked at yoga as a slow and steady form of exercise. It is incredible though, as I kept practicing and allowing myself to hear and react to what the instructors were saying through guided meditation, something in me changed a little. Towards the end of my senior year I took a cheap three-week yoga class offered through a gym on-campus. The goal was to focus on relaxation during finals time. The class met twice a week and lasted 40 minutes. We moved through 'sun salutation' and did a bunch of stretching and meditation. The class was more restorative than vigorous. I started walking myself through mediation outside of class when I was bored or tired, and couldn't sleep. It was an interesting exercise, but I didn't take it too much to heart.
Then I graduated and moved back to my home town and lived with my parents. It was a step in my life I hadn't anticipated. I was looking for a job and planning on moving after summer finished. Oh, how plans change. I stayed in Folsom, California, my home town, for a year, and for the two summers I found myself there, I practiced yoga at the local junior college. The class did not use a textbook. It focused on understanding the poses and skimmed the surface of yoga theory. We moved through asanas, the poses, for about 40 minutes and spent usually the first 10 to 20 minutes talking about asanas or our experiences. We would occassionally apply our experiences in yoga to the world around us. This class peaked my interest. Both summers I felt a change in myself. I became more aware of my bodily needs and my core grew stronger both physically and mentally.
In the United States I practiced only Hatha yoga, but at this studio in Daegu, South Korea, Ayurveda Yoga, I am learning parts of Kundalini, Hatha, and Tantric yoga. I landed in South Korea this past August, prepared, well unprepared to be an English teacher. I had no idea where I would work or who I would teach. All of the details of my life were up in the air. The EPIK (English Program in Korea) tends to often leave their NETs (Native English Teacher) guessing. After nine days of training in Seoul, I found myself enroute to Gyeongsan, a city that borders Daegu to teach at a science high school. I was warned about the importance of destressing post-work and slowly became aware of this reality. I was warned that if I didn't unwind I would start to dream about teaching, nightmare status and wake-up feeling as though I hadn't slept. I was there after about a month. My co-teacher heard that I did yoga and enjoyed it, but couldn't find a studio. She helped me research and then invited me to attend yoga with her. The nutritionist at my school, who ended up being the one who recommended Aurveda Yoga to my co-teacher, began at the studio again. It was helpful to have this support system to help me navigate through yoga in Korean. The teachers at the studio are great and if ever I look lost, they explain in English and it helps that they are constantly demonstrating asanas as they speak. I find a peace in listening to Korean, not fully understanding, but appreciating the sound. I am able to breathe through it. The words fall away and it becomes a focus of calming the mind. In the U.S. there was a lot of talking through postures. Instructors would continually and rhythmically speak during class. It was soothing at times, but easy to stay outside and not let go and turn in. I'm enjoying the beauty of the simplicity of less language and more feeling.
Practicing, hmmm, interesting word. I have found that yoga isn't so much something to be practiced as it is to be experienced. So, experiencing yoga recently has continued to deepen my sense of self and at the same time open me up. The walls I hit are endless and the walls that fall away are endless. The challenges that I have faced to a large extend have been constructed by me, so much so, that sometimes I cannot help, but laugh at myself.
This blog is hopefully going to blossom into a multi-perspective, dialogue about all things yoga...
"수고하셨습니다," which literally means "to work with great effort," is used at the end of yoga class at the studio. Phonetically it is pronounced "soo go ha syas seumnida." It is similar to "Namasté" in feeling, but not a direct translation. "Namasté" means roughly,"the light in me honors the light in you." With the conlusion of this entry, Namasté.^^