What now?

The story of how I found and fell in love with yoga – Part Three

So I quit my desk job… and then I felt kinda sorta guilty about my unemployment! I told myself that I needed a job and some hobbies to fill up my days so that no one could say I was loafing around aimlessly. So I applied to and was hired at a local bakery.

Cupcakes at the bakery!

Working at a bakery can be just about as awesome as it sounds. For starters, your customers are primarily joyous. People are out of their minds with delight and anticipation from the moment they walk in the door and there you are: the hero, handing down cakes, cookies and muffins from a bright, spotless and magnificent pastry altar. That’s not to say that the random odd entitled person with a bad attitude doesn’t occasionally walk through the door, but for the most part you are surrounded by intoxicating smells and fantastical sugarcraft all day as you connect with people on their way to celebrate birthdays and holidays. (You also get to take home day-old pastries.) This was not a bad part-time gig for me to land as I navigated the liminal space between unemployment and my next career. It also left some time for reflection.

After years of telling myself that I was frail and that I shouldn’t push myself, I hit a wall in this lame, self-limiting story – a wall about as tall as the mountain I had climbed. My body, apparently, is capable of great hiking feats! My story had to change. This opened up a world of possibility for me – I felt truly liberated, knowing that I could likely trek anywhere I wanted to if I just had the presence of mind to show up and get it done. My part-time job at the bakery afforded me a good amount of downtime, so I began hiking more and more.

Black River County Park, Chester NJ

The bakery also afforded me a lot of sugary calories, though, and I worried about when these would catch up with me. Hiking was great exercise, but there were rainy days and busy days mixed in there when hitting the trail wasn’t an option. I needed something to fill in the gaps. Something that wasn’t too exercise-y, because I still held some baggage about my physical prowess.

Indoor gyms held little appeal for me, and eventually the thought of yoga bubbled up into my consciousness. I had experimented with yoga in college and really enjoyed the serene environment of the yoga studio; it offered a vibe of peace and calm that I was totally unaccustomed to (especially as a college student!) I was pretty broke and I couldn’t afford a yoga studio membership, so I developed a home yoga practice by following along with yoga teachers on YouTube. I considered myself to be “trying yoga on for size” – I didn’t foresee that it would develop into a passion of mine.

Eventually I left the bakery to become a seasonal Park Ranger for the local county park system – all the hiking I had been doing led me to course-correct towards a job that emphasized the outdoors. The job consisted of lots of hard, physical labor in the hot sun and I loved it! I was blown away by all that my body could do, and I was becoming strong. (I could really go on all day about this job, but for now I will leave it there!)

My wheels at the park system.

Even though I was no longer working at the bakery and consuming an impressive amount of muffins, and even though I was getting all of the exercise I needed (and more!) in my role as a Park Ranger, I still stuck with the yoga. I spent time on my mat each and every day. Maybe, I pondered, yoga wasn’t just about the exercise after all

Looking back on it now, my initial pursuit of yoga was rooted in vanity and misunderstanding. Yoga was going to be my ticket to a toned body ahead of bathing suit season – that’s how yoga is primarily represented. (This is problematic – it represents a pernicious, whitewashed/Western and culturally appropriated version of yoga as just a physical exercise.) As I kept returning to the mat for more yoga, though, my reasons for showing up evolved. My cheap and “low impact” avenue for exercise transformed into…well…a transformative experience.

What started as a fitness pursuit soon turned into a mind-bending soul explosion. Through practicing yoga I gained a sense of purpose and pride and I tapped into my rich inner world for the first time. Yoga encouraged quietude and stillness, contemplation and self-compassion. I was able to bring the peace and calm of the studio into my home and increasingly into many aspects of my daily life. I was taking care of my body from a place of reverence and compassion instead of from a place of expectation and pressure.

Previously prone to staying up late, binge-watching Netflix and scrolling past my own reality in favor of the fantasy offered to me by social media, I noticed myself going to bed earlier. Through experience I learned that if I didn’t do yoga first thing after waking up, then the rest of my day would get in the way and I wouldn’t make it to the mat at all. So, I had to rise a little earlier to make sure I could accommodate yoga into my schedule. I also noticed myself drinking less often – if my head was foggy in the morning, it was likely that I would sleep in and skip yoga. Skipping didn’t sit well with me. Slowly, incrementally, prioritizing yoga in my life helped me to actually prioritize my whole life. I started taking care of my body and respecting it, deeply. I made commitments to myself and then honored them. This helped me build confidence, and lots of dumb stories I had been telling myself since my time on the grade school soccer field began to fall away. It all happened gently, with lots of compassion for myself, and it happened subtly, without me being totally aware of all the changes.

A butterfly, the classic symbol of transformation. Photo by Zaw Win Tun on Pexels.com

During all this change, I never heard a voice say, “Wait, wait! You’re veering a little too far away from your exercise goals and getting carried away.” Instead, I heard and felt deep appreciation for giving my body and soul exactly what I needed – careful reflection, gentle movement, a safe space to process my life, kind guides to help me along and a way to ground myself whenever I felt life having its way with me. These were all the gifts of yoga at work in my life. Eventually I felt called to share these gifts with others, and I completed my yoga teacher training. If you’re reading this then I hope I can share yoga with you, too.

So much of my worldview has changed thanks to the spiritual practice of yoga. Yoga is not an exercise program – the physical poses that are so often emphasized actually only represent one small part of a rich and complex philosophy. Yoga encompasses the ability to harness lifeforce energy and the recognition of the inherent value of all beings everywhere. Yoga guides you to lead a life in integrity with your highest self. I still have so much to learn about yoga and yet ultimately the goal is to know thyself. There is no finish line – just a call to embark on a mindful, steady path towards meeting your highest self. I’m certainly no expert, and so I hope to remain first and foremost a student, even when serving as a guide through my capacity as a yoga teacher.

Find the love you seek, by first finding the love within yourself. Learn to rest in that place within you that is your true home.

Ravi Shankar

It feels important to share the story of how I came to find and love yoga with you – I’m new on the scene and I want to lay it all on the table for you! Maybe a piece of my journey may resonate with you, or maybe it may inspire you to share your own story with your own audience. Either way: thank you for following along. 🙏

I would love to hear about your own journey, whether through yoga or a different transformative experience/practice – please leave your comments below!

👉 PS – Do you ever have trouble falling asleep at night? Are you looking for a simple way to relax? I can help! Subscribe here – when you sign up for the Compass Yoga email list you will receive my FREE Yoga Nidra Guided Meditation Practice.

👉 PPS – Stay tuned for an announcement very soon about a regular live yoga schedule in my Compass Yoga Community Facebook Group! (Go join!) I’m really looking forward to growing the community and offering more yoga practices that hopefully encompass all that yoga is, beyond just the poses.

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