Put simply, it was hard. The images projected by media did not match up with how I saw myself. Magazines and Hollywood portrayed yoga with very lean female yogis demonstrating gymnastic or dancer-like abilities. I could not imagine my broader, more athletic frame being able to achieve those kinds of postures. In other words, whatever I associated with yoga, I found very intimidating and inaccessible. I was young, perhaps not as self-assured. So with all the excuses in the world and very little understanding of the practice, I wrote yoga off as something not for me.
Growing up I played soccer. I found confidence, a need for movement, and a love for training that required discipline and respect. Once I graduated high school, I always found myself chasing after the same methodology of movement I found in competitive sports. Nothing matched the hard work, camaraderie, and lessons I gained from soccer. Throughout my 20s and 30s, I competed in co-ed adult soccer leagues. There were no daily practices, just once-a-week 90-minute games. Injuries were inevitable without training and practice. On game days, I noticed I was surrounded by adults, many of us trying to recapture our glory days of soccer, physically ailing with wrapped up ankles and knees. Then I sprained my right ankle two summers in a row, the second sprain putting me in crutches for two weeks and rehabilitation for several months. Never before had I hurt myself this badly from soccer. Many of my teammates empathized, but said it was common and I would learn to deal with it. That was unacceptable to me.
So I stopped playing and I focused my efforts at the gym. Lifting weights and doing cardio on stationary machines made me feel strong and in shape, but I became stiff and lost mobility in my shoulders and hips. Movement, training, and discipline felt different. I needed something, something I could grow old with, something, I realize retrospectively, that would impact me not just physically, but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
While living in Beijing from 2007 to 2015, any preconceived notions I had of yoga seemed to disappear as I was no longer inundated with ideas projected by media. I entered my first yoga class with a clean slate. I was older, more confident, more comfortable in my own skin, and had a particular intention in mind. That is, let’s try something new! I had no expectations for myself except to try, to learn, and to explore. I didn’t care that I couldn’t achieve many of the postures. Rather than think yoga was hard, my mindset was more curious and fascinated by questions of why and how. Why is it difficult to hold a high lunge for five breaths? Why can’t I breathe easily here? Why are my shoulders fatiguing in downward facing dog? How is it that I am so strong but cannot do these “simple” movements or postures? How can I begin to improve?
I found the mental and physical challenges of practicing yoga reigniting the discipline I knew I had inside of me. I loved how hard it was and I was open to trying any part of the practice, any of the postures, any of the modifications, any of the props that would help open, support, engage, relax, and improve my practice. I found teachers I respected. I watched. I listened. I read. I chanted. I breathed. I tried over and over again. I was excited to learn. I began to understand things about myself that I wasn’t even aware of before. And overall, I just felt so good inside and out.
Yoga practice across the years, the breakthroughs, the setbacks, the plateaus, the intensity, the relaxation, and the people who have taught me, with whom I have practiced, and whom I have taught, were all teaching me invaluable lessons. With the constant change of the self and the adaptability of yoga practice, I knew I had found something I could grow old with, where no limitations were limiting enough, and where there was no endpoint to my progression and learning. I have always said that progression will beat perfection in its sustainability, wisdom, and state of mind. And that is exactly what I have found through yoga.