Every so often, I get an email from a reader asking me about my yoga practice. It is something I have alluded to (like when I posted photos of 40 sun salutations on my 40th birthday, or every time I come back from a yoga retreat with Jen), but not something I have ever talked about in depth. Because I am co-hosting a yoga retreat here in Seattle with the Yoga Tree this weekend, and because Jen and I are coming up on our three year anniversary of doing retreats on Bainbridge, I thought it was time to spend a little time talking about yoga. (By the way, if you would like to sign up for the Seattle retreat, please visit this site. You will get an amazing yoga class and a cooking class with me!)
Before I tell you my yoga story, I should say up front that yoga has mostly been a physical practice for me. I am not a good meditator and it is hard for me to stay out of my head when practicing. Pranayama (doing different breathing exercises) gives me a migraine so I tend to just focus on moving my body with my breath. I do almost always dedicate my practice to someone, usually my son Graham, and I also send positive yoga vibes to people who need extra energy. But I would still say that my yoga practice is mostly physical.
I went to my first yoga class in 1998. I was working a job in radio advertising sales and several of the women in my office could not stop talking about a yoga class they loved. I knew very little about yoga and decided to check it out. I didn’t know there were lots of different kinds of yoga and if I had, I would have done a little more research. But I went and I fell in love with yoga.
Now, I had never been into exercise at all. I never played team sports. I went to the gym because I had to but I didn’t enjoy it. The only way I moved my body that I liked was when I took dance in college and when I went skiing. But that was it. After my first yoga class, I realized that I had been waiting for this kind of movement. Some people’s bodies need running, others need soccer, mine needs yoga.
Unfortunately for me, that first yoga class, the one that hooked me, was a Bikram class. Bikram, if you are not familiar with it, is a set series of 26 postures, each one done twice, in a room that is kept very hot. Nowadays, there is “hot yoga” all over the place and only some of it is Bikram. But in 1998, hot yoga meant Bikram. There are people who swear by Bikram yoga. I am not one of those people. Yes, I fell in love with it but I also could never do it more than twice a week because the heat was really hard for me to deal with, and after a few months starting, I noticed that my lower back always hurt. I felt like I continually needed to bend over and touch my toes to stretch it out.
After a year of doing Bikram, I knew something was just not right. I took a month off and did some research. Bikram is only one of many different types of yoga and, truthfully, it is not considered “true” yoga in that it does not really have any basis in Hatha yoga, an ancient lineage. I am no expert here and I’m not trying to offend anyone, but most people who practice and/or teach yoga don’t recognize Bikram as “real” yoga. There are a lot of things I could say here but I will just say Bikram = not for me.
I was lucky enough to spend the next part of my yoga journey at the Yoga Tree, a lovely studio in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle. (By happy coincidence, the Yoga Tree is now right next door to Book Larder.) The Yoga Tree specializes in Iyengar yoga which is the yoga of alignment. Poses are taught slowly with incredibly attention to detail. Making sure that students learn to do everything from downward dog to handstand slowly and correctly insure that people get the feeling for the pose in their body and also limits injury. The use of props is encouraged to make things that seem impossible attainable. (Can’t reach your toes? Put a block under your fingertips instead of just hanging out there in space and hurting your back.) To this day, whenever I find myself in Warrior 2, I look down at my feet, making sure I have heel to arch alignment.
The Yoga Tree also offered a few other classes in different styles and one of those was Ashtanga. I loved the Iyengar classes but after a year or so, I was ready for something a little more fast paced. Ashtanga was perfect for me. Like Bikram, it is a set series of postures, but this one felt like a dance to me. Each class starts with ten sun salutations, moves through a series of standing postures, a series of seated postures, and a series of finishing postures. You spend five breaths in each pose and each is linked to the next through breath. It is very challenging but very graceful. I loved it.
I was fortunate all along the way to have amazing teachers. I looked forward to going to yoga each time I went and was so happy to see the teacher, so grateful for them. I was working another sales job at the time and I knew my clients did not feel the same way about me. When I got laid off, I decided I wanted to do something I loved. I wanted to teach yoga. I researched training programs and ultimately decided that since Ashtanga was the practice that spoke most clearly to me, I should train in that type. I ended up in the same program where my Ashtanga teacher had trained in San Francisco. (You can read a bit more about my time there in this post.) It was an incredible and very intense month after which I returned to Seattle and started to look for jobs.
I taught for two years, some classes at gyms and some at yoga studios, including my beloved Yoga Tree. I absolutely loved teaching. To be able to share something so powerful with other people was incredible for me. I kept taking classes myself, always wanting to strengthen my own practice and also to become a better teacher. Those two years were wonderful ones in my life. My engagement, marriage, and move to a new house all happened during that time. I was strong, happy, healthy.
When we moved to London, about a year after we married, I said goodbye to my classes but I kept up my own practice. Three days a week in our flat I would move our little coffee table out of the way, unroll my mat, and work my way through the primary series of Ashtanga. There were a couple of studios somewhat nearby but they were incredibly expensive and I just decided to do my own thing. Then I got pregnant and stopped doing yoga on my own. When we moved back to Seattle, I did some pre-natal yoga (which I found to be a giant waste of time) and then I had a c-section and an endlessly hungry baby and I never thought I would see the inside of a yoga studio again. I did start on the path to getting my practice back when Graham was about a year old, but after a few months I got pregnant again and just basically gave up.
About three years ago, I decided it was time for me to reunite with my yoga practice. I deliberately chose a studio close to my house so that getting to and from was not an issue. I found teachers I liked and class times that worked and tried time and time again to not remember where my practice once was. Now that my children spend more time in school, it is easier for me to get to class. When I had very little free time, devoting two hours to yoga was hard to do, but now it is a part of my routine. I am in a new studio where the room is kept warm, not too hot, and the practice is very challenging. I have a long way to go. Before starting there, I had a lapse for a few months where I only went once a week or so. I find that I lose so much strength and flexibility so quickly. I am building back up and try to go four times a week. It feels good to be back.