You’ll hear some yogis say that the first time they stepped on their mat was a transcendent experience. Suddenly, they knew that THIS was what they were meant to do, THIS is where they were meant to be, and they were complete. Their lives had meaning, their goals sharpened, their minds and bodies worked synergistically to propel them on a path to Inner Peace.

 

I must have missed that day.

 

I can’t actually remember the first time I stepped on a yoga mat. I don’t recall being transformed by my first boat pose, or walking out of the studio that first day feeling like a new woman. I was uncomfortable Om-ing for a while, never quite sure if my mouth was in the right shape or my pitch was too high (or too low?) or whether the person next to me was really Om-ing or just listening to me Om and judging my Om as somehow lacking. Needless to say, there was no ray of light shining a bright halo on my mat during Namaste.

 

And you know what? I’m completely okay with that. It’s awesome and incredibly lucky for people to have a “moment”, but just like love at first sight, I certainly don’t think it is going to happen for everyone! I know that I didn’t need that lightning bolt of realization to find out that yoga is my path. Instead of a flash-bang explosion in my mind, I found that my yoga journey was much more gradual. I connected with the asana (the physical poses) first, finding that my brain took quite a while to catch up with my body.

 

Right off the bat I enjoyed the physical practice – in some ways, so similar to my dance and gymnastics background, and in other ways, so different. I was strong, I liked to sweat, I enjoyed “working” on my mat. But when we went to child’s pose, I’d be thinking “how long do we have to stay here?” and in savasana, I was already compiling my “To Do” list in my head. My favorite yoga classes were in studios that had mirrors so that I could keep an eye on my posture and correct every movement as I made it.

 

You might say I had a slight case of monkey mind, though of course I didn’t realize it then. (More about that another time!)

 

I had no problem with my lack of restful savasana. I took no issue with my desire to “compete” with others in the room, on the mats around me. I wanted MY pose to be “the best one” in the room.

 

It took me YEARS to understand that what a pose looks like on the outside has nothing to do with its level of “rightness”. It took me years to understand that I couldn’t be pushing all the time. It took me years to get the idea of a balance between effort and ease, years to understand that whether I’m on or off my mat, I don’t always have to be the best.

 

But in those years of practice, something happened. I evolved. Physically, of course. Time and exercise will do that to you! But much, so much more importantly, I evolved mentally. It finally started to sink in – I can cut myself some slack. No one is pushing me…except ME. I have the power to give myself permission to let go, even if it’s just for 75 minutes on my mat, even if it’s just a little bit. Those minutes in savasana? They’re not going to get anything on my To Do List accomplished, so why fritter them away with pointless rambling thoughts? Now when it’s time to settle in at the end of my practice, I slide into that delicious place between asleep and awake, light and dark, here and yet there, and I revel in them. I snuggle down into that rest and I wring out every delicious drop of relaxation. When it’s over, I take a great big stretch and leap off my mat, ready to face the next challenge.

 

It doesn’t have to take you years to establish your practice like it did for me, but you also don’t need to have an epiphany of Zen the first time you utkatasana. So if you feel that you’re wandering somewhere on the path (or maybe you’ve even strayed into the woods a little), that’s okay too. Everyone’s journey is different, with one striking similarity – there is no final destination. 

 

To me, yoga is a lot like love. You spend a lot of time mulling it over in your mind, the intricacies of it, the details, the tiny bits and pieces. But in the moment, all that stuff falls away and you’re swept up by the “big picture-ness” of it all – you don’t care that your nails aren’t painted or that you put your left foot forward when you meant right, you simply absorb and adore how incredible it all makes you feel. When you’re in it, all is right with the world. For me, like a deep and abiding love, your yoga practice is a gradual thing that gets stronger with time. Some days, it’s fantastic, and some days you need a break from it. If you allow it room to grow and change, you can keep it with you for the rest of your life.

 

The beauty of yoga is that the practice will never be complete. For each one of us, it is a personal evolution that we create in our own way, taking from it the things that work for us, leaving behind the things that do not, and journeying down our path, one breath at a time.