Most of the people I interact with know that I am a yogi. What I seldom share however, is my full yoga story. My friends, this is it; the full yoga story!
The first time I practiced yoga was in my basement, to a video as cross training during my swim off season. The opening line was "relax your face," to which the high school version of me immediately laughed so hard I couldn't continue with the tape. (Since becoming a yoga teacher, I have only used this cue once, because I immediately grin when thinking about it). Yoga sporadically made it's way in an out of my life in bits and pieces throughout college. That was until one six letter word entered my life...
My best friend, my mom, was diagnosed with cervical cancer when I was 21 years old, a junior in college. It was determined that the cancer was inoperable so she went through radiation and chemo treatments and we were told all looked great for her to be in remission. Treatments stopped and my mom was able to do the things she loved again. At her one year check up, the cancer had returned and spread to her lungs and lymph nodes. My mom, being the fighter that she was, started trying other means of care to support her treatments. And was very open to going to a yoga class with me twice a week. This was our first public yoga class. We came to yoga as a way to de-stress and to not focus on the dreaded "C" word, to be close and to heal in the offering provided. What we found is that yoga gave us the space to laugh, to feel strong, and to connect with a community outside of the reality waiting for us outside of the space. Cancer did not enter this space. Our yoga days were my mom's favorite days (and mine too), she loved them so much that she would go after treatments. I said goodbye to my mom, my fellow yogi, less than a year later.
It was several months before I could return to my mat, to yoga. I made sure that I didn't return to the space that we last practiced. My first yoga class upon returning was beautiful. Until Savasana. The teacher words were moving and beautiful, but touched too close to home... something about returning to the earth and connecting with the spirit. I freaked out. In the middle of the rec. room I had a panic attack, I couldn't breath and I was hyperventilating. It would be years before I would regularly return to yoga. But yoga wasn't done with me. My work wasn't (and isn't) done.
My next adventure was graduate school, where I was fortunate enough to meet people who shared in the idea that the mind-body connection produces healing... yoga and meditation made their way into the framework again. I knew then I would return to yoga, but I wasn't sure when or how.
Yoga came back to me in 2015, when I realized I wanted to incorporate some yoga and mindfulness skills into my sessions with the students at school. I looked at different kids yoga trainings and found in almost serendipitous fashion a post about a yoga studio that had students in their teacher programs volunteer at a center for at-risk children. The studio wasn't holding any kids yoga trainings, but was getting ready to start a 200 hour teacher training. I couldn't let it go, there was just something too perfect about finding this studio. I took my first class back in action July 4, 2015 with Paige Butkus and we did Firefly. That night I also met one of the women who would become my teacher, Katy Rowe. She welcomed me and pretty much said I wouldn't look back if I started this journey. I knew that night yoga was here to stay, that it had never really left. My mat and my lessons were waiting for me to return to do my work.
I will never for get the smile on my mom's face our yoga nights, both in anticipation and in the relaxation afterwords. It is a great gift I was able to share with her. One that in the time practiced, I was able to witness an improvement in her quality of life off the mat. My personal practice is a gift I continue to learn from and I am grateful for everyday.
I was honored to be invited to teach the LaCROSSe Out Cancer on March 25th in collaboration with the Colorado Mammoth and River Power Vinyasa; to honor my mom, the survivors, fighters, and everyday heroes that support their loved ones. Check out the demo flow for our event "Rise to Stomp Out Cancer" at the bottom of the page "choreographed" to and inspired by "Rise Up" by Andra Day.
Photo Credit: Eli Madden