Five years ago, I spent a month at the Sivananda Yoga Ranch in Woodbourne, NY. I was newly married, newly unemployed and completely lost in most ways. I wanted an escape. I wanted a new path. I needed to heal from some heartbreak and follow my gut somewhere new.
I still remember, months before arriving at the ashram, stopping there on my way home from a weekend trip to Vermont. It was a sunny day in May and the ashram was quiet. As I drove up the long gravel driveway, I hoped to receive a sign from above–something that would tell me that coming here and becoming a yoga teacher was the right path for me. I stopped at the front desk and asked for a map of the property. Then, alone, I walked to a shrine at the top of a hill, waiting for something to click inside me.
It didn’t. A bright light didn’t glow suddenly inside my mind. A deep resonance didn’t sound off inside my heart. The decision to take a leap of faith was never going to be easy. I left the ashram that day just as confused as I was when I arrived. Sometimes you just have to keep moving forward without a strong sense of purpose. At least that’s what I ended up doing; because choosing nothing and feeling the same emptiness, wasn’t an option either.
So, I did it. I spent four weeks meditating twice a day, living in a small room with three other students, waking up at 5AM each morning, doing my karma yoga in the kitchen each night, and learning about the history and practice of Sivananda yoga. And although I was practicing yoga four hours a day at the ashram during teacher training, my yoga practice today is far more powerful, even though I only do it for 15 minutes a day, if that.
I need yoga today in ways that I didn’t when I was twenty-five. Before, I wanted to own my practice. I wanted to achieve poses, not heal through them or exist within them. That’s not to say that my yoga practice used to be less valuable, it just took me a while to be present while doing yoga, accept myself in each pose, and to welcome its gifts.
Today, I do yoga as someone who has carried a child, given birth, and is now a mother. Some nights, everything from my toes to my neck aches, especially after a long day at the keyboard. That’s when I retreat into my practice, whether I’m just putting my legs up on the wall and reading a book at the end of the day or discovering that I can still do a headstand–something that made me realize, months into motherhood, that I’m still me, I’m still strong, and anything is still possible.
Today, that’s what yoga means to me.
Photo Credit: Jennifer May for The New York Times