We all have different reasons for practicing yoga, different paths that led us to find the practice. Many start for physical (even superficial) benefits, only to realize the profound, spiritual insights that are also accessible through asana and meditation. Meanwhile, others have to hit their knees before they become open to these rewards. As Rumi described, “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” In this BreatheTogetherOnline.com column, teachers and students alike will contribute deeply-personal accounts of their own yoga journeys, how they found the practice, and why they stay committed to it. Thank you for holding the space and allowing them to share their truths.
Five years ago, I attended one of Gabrielle Bernstein’s events in Montauk – smaller than her sold-out, book tour events at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral I’ve attended but a packed house nevertheless. “Spirit Junkies” crammed into The Surf Lodge to hear her speak and do a little yoga (and get a free lululemon yoga mat).
We started doing yoga under the hot sun – not a cloud in the sky that day – all edges of our new lululemon mats kissing our neighbors’. Toward the end of the sequence, Bernstein guided us into a Kundalini movement meditation, instructing us to pump our arms up and down as vigorously as we could (nevermind that I had no idea what “kundalini” meant). I did as I was told for what felt like a sufficient amount of time. I was starting to sweat and ready to stop, but she insisted we keep going and push past the discomfort. I didn’t want to let her down, the only one in the sea of Spirit Junkies giving up, so I closed my eyes and continued, silently praying the exercise would be over soon. Instead, I drifted into a dream-like state and was transported 5,000 miles away to a secluded beach I remember from my first trip to Hawaii as a child.
I knew this beach well. Though that trip is a distant memory, I’ll never forget walking along the shore of this quiet beach until I got to the end, marked by a large piece of driftwood, or the feeling of stepping into warm ocean water for the first time. I’m a California native; I’ve always lived at least an hour away from the coast and spent much of my time taking in the gorgeous views and basking in the sun. But I was never interested in the icy, cold currents. Warm water was a game changer. It felt like being welcomed home.
No longer looking out onto the Atlantic Ocean but this illusory vision of the Pacific, it was darker there, perhaps early morning or evening, just before sunrise or sunset. There was no one else there, and yet I wasn’t alone. I was pumping my arms as though I didn’t have a choice, as though my life depended on it, until I realized there was another life at stake. A lifeless child lay before me.
From a beach paradise to a less-ideal backdrop, I was again transported, this time to a hospital exam room. Coincidentally, the many times I’ve sat in that seat dreading my routine OB-GYN appointments, I’ve gazed up at the popcorn ceiling, willing myself to imagine that tropical destination I so often go to while meditating. This visit was different; on this visit, I was spared the few moments of discomfort I dreaded so much.
My doctor walked in slowly, almost hesitantly, with pity in her eyes, though I didn’t notice; I, too, would pity any woman in my seat. Besides, my doctor, who was kind enough, was never overly warm or engaging. Without a proper greeting or pleasantries, she stoically delivered my fate in the form of two simple words that would change the course of my life: “You’re pregnant.”
My mind returned to my utopian beach and the task at hand. I started pumping harder, more fervently, to save this baby’s life. I fought back tears, as it dawned on me this child must be the baby I lost years before – a heartache I never properly grieved nor even wanted to look at. But I couldn’t look away this time. I was ready to give up, succumb to the heat and my heavy heart, when I heard Bernstein yell for us to keep going. I pumped harder and harder, faster and faster, willing this child I wasn’t ready for back to life. But as I looked closer at this sweet little girl, with the blondest hair, I realized it wasn’t the baby I carried for six short weeks; it was me. This inner child I had neglected for so long had stopped breathing. With a final burst of energy and her counting us down, I surrendered to the movement, offering up all I had left in me. And just as the exercise was coming to a close, I saw the chest of that little girl start to rise, air returning to her lungs, her heart beginning to beat again (though faint), and her big brown eyes slowly opening. As I opened my own, I was back in Montauk, tears streaming down my face, no longer concerned with hiding or holding them back – just in time for savasana.
Upon returning home from the event to California, one of the first things I did was google “Kundalini yoga near me,” which is eventually how I found Breathe Together Yoga. Before even stepping foot in the studio, I signed up for a Kundalini workshop, eager to soak up as much information as I could. Charanpal Kaur became one of my beloved teachers and healers. Simultaneously, I enrolled in a yoga teacher training (YTT) led by Kenny Graham and Hannah Muse – despite having no real interest in becoming a yoga teacher.
I also slowly transitioned out of my glamorous, corporate job in the city I could no longer feign caring about back into a much lower-paying job as a preschool teacher. Returning to the job I had during college was the only work I could stomach while I figured out what to do next, plus it came natural. I instinctively knew being around children would help me nurture my own inner child. A preschool teacher by day, aspiring yogini by night, I started teaching what I was learning to my preschool students – mostly to help reinforce the lessons. I found that I loved translating yogic teachings to something children could understand and having conversations with them about their feelings. I wished I had been exposed to the tools I was learning earlier in life. Eventually, I moved from a lead teacher to launching my own preschool yoga program, called True Nature.
That YTT journey took me to the depths of my childhood wounds and helped me tap into my capacity for love and healing. After graduating with a 200-hour certificate (and still little aspiration to become a yoga teacher), I decided to keep forging a path that looked radically different than what I thought – and society told me – I wanted. I enrolled in an advanced, 300-hour program that allowed me to study in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Bali, and India. Every step of the journey brought me closer to myself. The real reason I practice yoga is to remember who I really am, to reconnect to my true nature. I’ve committed the last five years of my life to resuscitating that little girl I almost lost, the one buried beneath every people-pleasing decision I ever made. I’m still learning and it takes practice, but I prioritize that little girl every day: with meditation, scribbling lines in my journal, yoga, a jog down to the ocean, searching for seashells (like I used to love doing as a child), even jumping under the icy-cold waves I used to fear so much.