At the beginning of my classes, I invite my students to set an intention for their practice by contemplating the following questions: Why did you come to a yoga class today? What compels you to continue seeking out this practice of yoga? One of my teachers, the extraordinary Mark Uridel, says that he asks himself this very question, Why am I here?, each morning as he steps on the mat. It is an extremely important question, because figuring out what brought you to this place will determine where you go next.  Sometimes it is necessary for us to retrace  our steps in order to find out how we arrived in a particular place: often I’ll find myself having premature senior moments, having walked from one room to another only to discover that what was originally a clear purpose is now completely obscure. Usually, if I walk back to my starting point, I’ll find my way again, and can keep on going.

I’m not sure exactly what initially compelled me to start practicing yoga.  As with another of my life’s passions, knitting, I think that,  as long as I had been aware of it,  I had a sense that it would be part of my life someday .  The first classes I took were a 6-week beginner’s series in the spring of 2003, which I enjoyed very much, but at that time I wasn’t financially able to keep up with the classes. When I went back to yoga classes in May of 2006, it was after a long, frustrating spring of trying and failing to return to a regular running routine. What had been just a year before an energizing and exhilarating practice had turned to drudgery with each and every step.  I remembered then that I had always meant to return to yoga, and thought it might be an effective and enjoyable way to get my body moving again.

I was immediately hooked on my classes with Ty at the Victoria Iyengar Center. They were held on Sunday mornings, and as we started class by chanting the Invocation to Patanjali,  we could hear the church bells from nearby Christ Church Cathedral. I was not aware of it at the time, but my life was beginning to undergo a quiet but radical transformation.  Yoga allowed me to be fully alive in my body in ways I had never imagined possible. Under Ty’s tough but tender tutelage, I was accessing muscles I never knew I had–and they hurt! The French have a saying, when an apprentice to a woodworker or blacksmith has aches and pains as a result of their work, that it is the trade entering the body. For me, in those early days of practicing yoga, it was awareness entering the body. Yoga filled in what I perceived as a gap in the Christian tradition that informed me: how can we use the body as a tool for spiritual practice and transformation? For years I had been trying to figure out how to be present to my life just as it was each day, in each moment, and while the Christian faith provided a useful framework for this, it was yoga that proved to be the final and crucial piece of the puzzle. I knew very early on that I had found my life’s work, and that I would one day train to be a teacher because I could not imagine a better way to occupy the days and years of my life than by sharing what I had found with others.(I entered Teacher Training at Yoga Yoga in Austin in the fall of 2007.)  A lot of yoga practitioners struggle to start and maintain a home practice, sometimes for years: I was practicing nearly everyday, almost from the very start. I often describe that period as “falling down the rabbit hole” of yoga: it was a deep, complete surrender to the pull of the practice, and there was no going back.

What got me hooked at first is what keeps me coming back even now. Occasionally there are new insights, but for the most part what I experience on and around the mat is a deepening and broadening of those insights that were present from the very start: how to be alive in every pore and sinew of my body; how to breathe through and soften around difficulty;  how to be present in this very moment, this very breath; how to listen deeply; how to befriend myself. I believe I am a better person because I practice yoga, and I am fairly certain my husband would agree. I definitely find more ease and enjoyment in my life as a result of practice.

It is good to reflect on these things. Too often I get mired in concerns such as what poses or areas of the body to work on, what kind of practice to develop, etc. These are useful and potent questions, worthy of honest and deep evaluation. But, in order to answer them with integrity, I must  remember the path that brought me to the mat in the first place, and honoring the original intention for my practice always simplifies what comes next: knowing where I have been, I can have a clear idea of where to go.