I’ve always loved the power of physical activity to transform my mood. Like most people of my generation, I grew up playing outdoors. Running around with the neighborhood kids playing soccer, softball, hide and seek, hopscotch, skipping or whatever else was going on that day. During my teen years, I dabbled in competitive swimming, running and lived for the thrill of skiing. I never consciously thought about how the activity benefited my health, I just knew that doing it made me feel alive, happy and confident. In university, there were a few years when I just stopped moving. Life got too busy with my school work, social life and part-time job. Looking back, those were my darkest moments. My moods and my weight fluctuated. I lost confidence and the light inside me dimmed. Once I graduated, I tried to bring exercise back into my life but there were times, as I continued with new beginnings – entering the workforce, marriage and becoming a mother – when my fitness activities faltered. But one day I decided that despite my busy life working fulltime and being a wife and a mother of three young children, I could no longer afford not to workout. So I joined a gym.
Within a few weeks of going to the gym, I remembered why I loved moving my body. It made me happy. I felt so much better about me, even days after the workout. While it was tough to get to the gym often, I tried to commit to at least two or three days a week. I threw myself into the high intensity classes – step, circuit and weight training. But when the club introduced its yoga classes, I resisted. I watched people flowing through poses and shifting into savasana from my perch outside the window as I waited for my next high octane class. From my limited vantage point, the unhurried, deliberate poses didn’t seem challenging enough for the kind of workout I craved.
Then priorities in my life shifted. I stepped off the treadmill of commuting downtown everyday for my full-time job, to assist my husband with his growing business and stay at home with our three children. As it often is with change, it becomes a catalyst to open the door to new experiences. So I thought: Yoga? Why not? I tried my first class with trepidation and became hooked from the first downward dog. And after an hour of sun salutations and a variety of challenging twists and turns, the peacefulness of savasana was the deal clincher. All of a sudden my mantra switched from: ‘I’m not so sure about yoga.’ to ‘Where has yoga been all my life?’
Of course, I threw myself into practicing yoga much like I did my other fitness classes. I chose a challenging Power yoga class. I celebrated my strength in poses like chaturanga dandasana (similar to a low push up) and Warrior and inwardly smiled at the thought of how the stretching would transform my body into longer and leaner limbs. Little did I realize at the time, that yoga is less about feeding the ego and more of a personal journey to discover who we can become, both on the mat and in our own lives.
During the first few years of my yoga practice, I don’t think I fully understood its power to heal. I even stepped away from it for a short time when our son, Cameron, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. With all the trips back and forth to The Hospital for Sick Children and Princess Margaret for chemotherapy and radiation, I didn’t feel I had the time or emotional energy to spare for a yoga class. I tried to fit in a quiet walk whenever I could. This became my outlet, almost a form of meditation for me. But when Cameron emerged from his intense treatments cancer free, I found my way back to the mat. It was the comfort of coming home again. The experience of watching our son while he bravely conquered the disease had changed me. Suddenly, a profound sense of gratitude warmed my body as I flowed through the poses. My time on the mat healed my heart. Having experienced the powerful healing powers of yoga first hand, I began to research the physical health benefits of practicing.
As you can imagine, there are thousands of articles on the internet about the many benefits of practicing yoga. When practiced with proper alignment, yes yoga is good for you, in so many ways – for your heart, your circulation, your lymphatic system, your muscles and joints – the list goes on. And then there are the intangibles – peace of mind, a sense of community and, for some, a spiritual awakening. But the real story is how the power of yoga affects each journey.
Because of my son’s illness, I was drawn to articles on the benefits of yoga for cancer patients and survivors. According to an article in Yoga Journal, while yoga is not a cure for cancer, it does enhance physical and emotional wellness. So I asked Cameron if he wanted to try a class with me. I’m not sure if it was love at first class for him. But I do know that one class led to another and he soon found it helped with his flexibility in baseball. I’d like to say that yoga became a daily practice for mother and son. But it eased its way into our lives through a class here and a class there. We enjoyed our time together and on the mat whenever we could. While I yearned for more yoga, I found contentment in my practice. Just as I was establishing my balance once again, my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Within a heartbeat, our lives changed and our schedules were consumed with driving back and forth to hospitals. Once again, yoga took a back seat. Although looking back now, I wish I had set aside time to slow down to ease my own suffering and worry through meditation and the asanas but my mind and body immediately ramped up to panic because this time the cure was less hopeful. We were racing against time. We lost my father within nine months, but as anyone who has lost a loved one will tell you, grief has no timeline. When I returned to my mat once again, a piece of my heart was missing. I moved more gingerly, as though I had aged or become ill. I looked for the meaning in the meditations at the end of the class. It was a gradual healing but the ache in my heart dimmed and the tears became less frequent.
Today, after practicing yoga for more than 10 years, I look back on the changes in my practice as I would reminisce on a longtime friendship. Despite the ups and downs, I think the most dramatic change has been within the last year when I finally left my gym and found a yoga studio. Much like I did before I began yoga, I resisted at first. But as my daughter, Katy, pointed out: “Mom. You love yoga. You want to practice more. You need to go to a yoga studio, not a gym.” It took time for me to find a studio where I felt comfortable. I tried a few classes here and there. I had my heart set on a studio that was minutes from home, but the teacher and the energy didn’t suit me at all. Accustomed to the soothing flow of movement and gentle administrations, I recoiled at the boisterous guidance and an invasion of my personal space in adjustments. Needless to say, I didn’t return. I almost gave up hope, until I discovered Some Like It Hot in Oakville. The energy was positive and warm from the moment I walked through the doors. Even though it was further from home, I knew immediately that this was where I was meant to practice.
As I settled into a new routine, I tried out different classes. I can honestly say I loved every class. While each instructor had their own style, each guided me so I began to practice with improved alignment as well as greater awareness that yoga is more than just your work on the mat. Now I find myself rushing less and breathing more mindfully. When I’m upset with a friend or family member, I try to step back and choose my words with care. (Sometimes this is a work progress! It’s so easy to let others actions or words stir our anger.) I also make healthier food choices. But probably the biggest change is that I found the courage to begin the Yoga Alliance Teacher Training Program.
While I am excited about this next step in my yoga journey, I also carry a bit of anxiety. Will I be good enough? Do I have the strength of body and spirit to properly guide students in their practice? I have decided to ignore the worry in the back of my head. I actually don’t have time, I’m too busy learning – about the anatomy and physiology of yoga, the chakras and the many philosophical yogic principles. After all, one of the most important principles in yoga is to “live in the present moment.” So as I take each step toward my inspired goal, I have decided to let go and truly trust the journey.