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.

I QUIT!

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

On top of Katahdin, with Knife Edge ahead. Baxter State Park, ME. Aug 2015.

I rock scrambled on Knife Edge, occasionally staring over at the sheer 4500-foot drop-off into nothingness on either side of me. I was talking to myself as I went, reminding myself to take it easy, stay low and breathe. One wrong move and I was toast. I had never done any hiking quite like this before, and I asked myself more than a few times what right I thought I had to be up on the ridge at all. (Especially since I didn’t wholly trust my body not to betray me.) All of my fear was compounded by the fact that I was scrambling with my brother. If one of us has to fall today, I offered up to the mountains, the sky, the wind, please let it be me.

My brother, Andrew, and I were on Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park in Maine after having summitted Baxter Peak with my Dad and his two friends. Andrew and I opted to descend on a path that included the infamous and dangerous 1.1-mile-long ridge trail – the Knife Edge – while the other (smarter?) portion of our hiking party returned down the same route we had just spent the day ascending (which was certainly not without its own challenges.)

Lost in the clouds.

On Knife Edge we were in the clouds. The trail ahead and behind would disappear from view into foggy whiteness for a few minutes and it would seem as though Andrew and I were alone in the world on top of a cruel and rocky hellscape. (Think, like, Mordor.) Then the clouds would drift away and we would be awed by humbling, expansive beauty in every direction. We would periodically exclaim “Four on the floor!” – a fun reminder to stay low and ground down into the surrounding rocks with each limb. We laughed, we worried about my dad and his friends as we questioned our own sanity, and we philosophized about life. We even made trail friends with a group of boy scouts and their amazing guide.

It took over 2 hours to cross just over 1 mile of terrain that day. Somewhere along the way, as I shimmied over rocks and climbed a natural feature called a “chimney,” my fear converted fully into joy. The sense of humility that the mountains and vastness imposed on me was enlightening. This was the feeling of aliveness. My whole being buzzed with clarity, gratefulness and contentment. It was as if being so high up on a mountain allowed direct downloads from the ethereal space between my head and the stars – my body was the antenna and the connection was clear.

From what I have surmised, lots of people feel this same way in while extreme terrain and/or while pushing their bodies to the limit. Fortunately not everyone has to go to crazy lengths to tap into the feeling. People even catch a whiff of it for themselves at quiet neighborhood parks. It’s the sensation of being tuned into your brilliant vitality, while also knowing that this one life is very precious.

At the summit, Baxter Peak (5,268 feet)

I felt something changing in me on the mountain, though I couldn’t pinpoint why or how. A gentle but powerful inner voice, familiar but oft ignored, caught my attention. The voice assured me that it was okay to be happy and to want to be happy in this life. That I wasn’t asking too much for myself to be embraced in stunning natural beauty more regularly, or to be working at a job that enriched my life and my connections. I let a vivid fantasy of life beyond my current job set soar. The voice told me that if I were to quit my job that it would be okay; I would figure it out. I didn’t have to know all the steps ahead of me on my life path – it was just important that I didn’t fall off the current path on top of the mountain.

I hadn’t dared to contemplate quitting my job so seriously. It felt “irresponsible.” But, honestly, yes – I was increasingly unhappy at my job and I was having more trouble each day making the most of it. The work felt shallow and I felt restless. I was only 25 and I wondered, Is this it?

All of the conditions on Knife’s Edge were right for me to hear and to trust my inner voice. My soul. I didn’t have these words to explain it to anyone at the time. I just had a giddy conviction that I could do whatever I wanted and that I should stop wasting time.

The “trail.”

Having made it beyond the ridge, Andrew and I still had an arduous descent along a boulder-filled trail back to the car. (Where, hopefully, the rest of our hiking party would be waiting for us. They weren’t. That’s another story!) I was delirious. Loopy. We had been hiking since 6AM and it was now approaching the dinner hour. I kept asking my brother if we could lay down and nap in the middle of the trail (Let the bears have me! I don’t care!) and I butt-scooted down each rock ledge we encountered – I didn’t think my knees and ankles could bear another step. So I slid down a couple-thousand feet of a mountain on my ass.

Despite this delirium I still felt a deep, ringing clarity in my body, mind and soul about my mountain-top, cloud-tinged decision to quit my job and take more ownership of my life.

So I did just that: I returned home from my trip to Maine and I gave 2 months notice at my job. I didn’t have anything else lined up. Then I left the country for a month and half to visit Singapore and New Zealand.

When I returned home again I didn’t know what I would do with all my newfound free time, but it would turn out that I had plenty of time for yoga.

To be continued…

On our way to the summit! Me, center, with my Dad and my brother, Andrew.