When I first started practicing yoga at Binghamton University, I used it as time to stretch and relax. I preferred aerobic classes, cardio, and weight training. I would see classes going on at the gym, and pass right by to head toward the weight room. I ducked out and skipped savasana. Even though today it's difficult to imagine a time when yoga wasn't in my life, I know now that it was just a part of my process. Yoga didn't become important in my life until I had severe vertigo and was totally incapacitated for several days. As a perfectly healthy 25 year old, I woke up in the middle of the night one day with severe dizziness. I was rushed to the hospital, where they checked me for every possible illness. I was stressed out and scared, not sure why or what exactly was happening. I had lived my life until then without any real fear about illness.
Fortunately, though my episode of vertigo was very severe, it was benign. For weeks I continued to experience dizziness and was not able to run or take aerobics classes: I became dizzy and stumbled when I tried. A friend recommended yoga to me as an alternative, and I started to take vinyasa classes at a studio.
The first time I attempted trikonasana, I fell over on to my mat. I fell down in pose after pose, because turning my head made me dizzy and I couldn't detect where my body was in space. In parsva virabhadrasana, I felt my body stabilize and ground for the first time since before I was in the hospital. I started to feel a little bit more like myself. The teacher encouraged further grounding by reminding me to be aware of my foot placement.
In savasana, I cried in every class that I took for the first two months since being in the hospital. The crying happened as a result of combined sadness that so much had changed about my body and I didn't know why, and as I realized what beauty this practice was. By the end of each class there was nothing to do but close practice with the teacher, silently sending them my unending praise and gratitude. I will never forget the instructor who told me: "This is a safe space. The body unwinds itself in many different ways, and sometimes emotions come along with the physical. Be open to whatever arises."
After having brushed past yoga classes for years at the gym, I was finally starting to understand the power of this mind-body healing practice. I truly believe that movement itself is good, healing, healthy, and important. Certainly running, weight lifting, swimming, and other physically challenging activities are crucial to keeping the body healthy- and variety is the spice of life. Yoga has something entirely different to offer, and that is what I invite students to peer at in every class that I guide them in. Look inside, and you really never know what you might find. You might get a glimpse at unexplored hallways or closed doors you didn't see were there before. Approach them with gentleness, and don't be afraid to look closer.
In the words of Danna Faulds, a poet and yogini that I often quote in my classes: "Use yoga to become aware, to touch what lies beneath the surface of the skin. Is there tension longing for release; a knot of fear so deep and familiar that you believe it's part of who you are? Ease into dark corners, locked rooms, unexplored hallways. Gain entry not by force or will but only by softness."