One of my dearest and best friends, a stranger three months ago, said the most profound thing I’d heard in awhile. We graduated from yoga teacher training together and had never met until June. We bonded tight pretty quickly, as most of us did. But all nine of us in the summer program made a few extra special connections with certain individuals. I instantly clicked with the two youngsters, of which, one was Molly. Being an old soul from birth, all of my friends have been slightly, or a lot, older than me. It never occurred to me at age 41, that there would be some old souls in young packages out there as I once was. But, here were two of them. One was still in high school and Molly barely 21 years old, but their souls immediately gave them away. These creatures are magic, and their souls shine bright. In addition, they are a wealth of incredibly sound, loving advice. This would serve me well during the intense, immersive training program. At any given time, one or all of us would collapse in tears, working through whatever shit we needed to, during a meditation or a moving flow yoga practice. Molly was one of my rocks as we made our way to the finish line.
After we graduated, Molly started teaching at our beloved ashram studio, where we’d trained. It is always so exciting to be in one of her outdoor yoga classes on the deck of “our” ashram. Her voice is soothing and she cues well, and works us over in a power flow, with ease. After one of her classes we were chatting and laughing and hugging. Always hugging. Bonding with females this tightly is an entirely new experience for me and wow, it’s powerful and amazing. If pure sisterhood like this full of loving support and badassery was rampant on this planet, I can guarantee you we’d all have our shit in line. No backstabbing, jealousy or malice would exist; it would never prevail in this environment. I digress…
Molly and I were chatting and I thanked her for the amazing class. She thanked me as well and said she was always happy when I showed up because she loved “watching my body do yoga.” She said she liked the way I moved. I had to really stop for a moment and process that because I couldn’t fathom that my practice was quite worth that kind of attention. After all, while I didn’t hide this fact at first, I’d been hiding it since teacher graduation: I’d only been doing yoga for a year. Granted, I was doing four to six classes every week for the last 365 days, so my practice at a year versus someone who was just “recreationally” doing yoga, had the potential of looking very different from the outside. And I guarantee my insides looked starkly different from a year ago as well. I digress again.
I had no idea what Molly was seeing in my practice or the way I moved. All I recall is that two years prior, I had trouble lifting anything, including basic groceries. I had let stress and chronic back issues take control over me and pile on stress in life, and it was the perfect storm of inflammation and immobility. In my mind I just see the last spinal xray that had been taken, two years prior. It shows me standing straight, on both feet, but the curve and twist in my thoracic and lumbar spine is kind of heartbreaking. That’s what I see in my mind, the broken skeletal system that was trying to fail me. Grateful, though, that as bad as it looked, it didn’t outwardly show much, and through the stretching and yoga and meditation, my body had begun to let me do amazing things.
Only two months after starting yoga, one of my teachers taught me how to hold crow pose, an arm balance that takes concentration and strength. From the moment I nailed that crow, I realized that I might possibly have control over what my body “lets” me do with it. And I’ve never looked back. A crow turned into more advanced arm balances which seemed to come naturally – I tell everyone it’s because I’m shaped like a spider monkey: no torso, all arms and legs!
Before yoga teacher training, I was blessed with the first of my young, old souls. She is a teacher at my home studio. We practiced side by side for a few months, in vinyasa classes, and high-intensity Core and Broga classes, before I got a chance to sit down and really get to know her. It then became apparent she possessed the same magic that months later I saw in my other two little wise ones.
These three young women are at such different places in life than I: one in high school; one in college; one out of college and teaching yoga and on to naturopathic wellness programs at age 22: seventeen, twenty-one and twenty-two. I’m 41, divorced, and have been everything from a medical professional to a goat farmer. These women all discovered yoga at a very young age; me, at age 40.
I shared a video with this third beautiful soul, today. It’s a minute of me doing a little yoga flow in the studio before teaching a class. I told her that it was helpful to see how the movement was, and to get to check my alignment. Part of the spine stigma I’ve labeled myself with, is the assumption that even if a pose feels right to me, that I’m doing it incorrectly, feeling aligned but not aligned. My curvature isn’t hard to see without clothes on, and one hip is slightly higher than the other. I’m self conscious of it, but fortunately it isn’t overly obvious unless one has really studied body mechanics – such as yoga teachers. Once in awhile it’s mentioned by a teacher and it reminds me of the fact that even though my back feels amazing this past year, that there is still something there, and it will never go away.
My friend only had one comment: “Damn. Those chaturangas, though!” This made me infinitely happy and excited, as she is the bendiest most fluid-moving human I’ve ever known. She is not only a yoga teacher but also a professional dancer. While I’ll never be that flexible and totally accepting of that fact, my friend was commenting on my form and strength in one of the most powerful yoga poses we do in vinyasa: chaturanga dandasana, or low plank. We have been ordered to hold these for upwards of five to ten breaths in high-intensity classes and it feels like a person is about to spit up blood. It’s a good kind of torture though. And in truth, chaturangas and upward facing dogs make me feel like a warrior, strong and free.
Here is what I told her after she said that:
“In truth, it may sound crazy, but when I’m in a chaturanga or up dog, it feels possibly similar to when a lifer gets released from prison. (That’s probably a HUGE exaggeration but you get the idea). It just feels like a strength I never knew I was capable of, and is also very meditative for me. This has given me a physical and mental strength I never imagined. There was a time during yoga teacher training at the end of a long, hot day (heated yoga studio), that we were still flowing and teaching each other and I was so comfortable – and so tired – that I just wanted to stay in that chaturanga. As in, hold it indefinitely! This goes way beyond passion for me. I’ve written about it and said it before, but I truly feel that yoga has or will at some point, have saved my life.”
Either way, even if it hasn’t quite saved my life, yoga has deepened the meaning in my life and allowed me to make more meaningful connections with people, and I’m eternally grateful. This passion is translated into getting the yoga poses “right,” and also getting the teaching “right,” when I’m in front of a class. It’s a lot of pressure that I put on myself and I’m well aware of that. Let’s revisit that in a year! But, we all have our thing. Me and my chaturanga: it’s real and it’s deep.