Yoga Firsts

Written by Nicole Newman

Yoga is full of Firsts. More Firsts, in fact, than I could have imagined at the onset of what has serendipitously unfolded into a very meaningful journey.

My First class. Yoga and I got off to a rocky start. I’m not a “joiner.” I tend to do my own thing, in my own time, in my own quirky way. I’m an only child. I don’t naturally go with the flow. Nevertheless, I took the yoga plunge out of desperation to expedite my post-surgery healing process. I didn’t vibe with the OM-filled studio. “I am not part of this. I am not like these people. This is just a means to an end and then peace out yoga freaks.” I was far removed from both my psychological and physical comfort zone. I was also certain that I would pass out from the shocks of pain my scar tissue endured from locust pose. Death by yoga. Not to worry. I could be conveniently rolled up in my yoga mat, like freshly prepared sushi, tossed to the studio sidelines with the fresh batch of stinky rental mats waiting to be cleaned. Turns out I survived the 90 minutes of torture and found my way back to class the following week. Never quite sure why or how. Perhaps my determination to no longer be dependent on pain medication, or maybe I was just too damn cheap to accept the sunk cost of a 10-class card. Either way, I continued to sun salute my way through the next nine classes.

People claim that Yoga “stirs the pot.” I assumed this was an admonition to avoid eating before class. Twists and folds don’t jive with a flat bagel sandwich and a thick smear of veggie cream cheese. Lesson learned. It turns out that the aforementioned pot is deeper than my original understanding. I had heard stories of practitioners who spoke of the connection between physical and emotional releases, as a result of deep work in specific postures. This seemed utterly ridiculous. Arrogantly and incorrectly, I dismissed this claim.

Then it happened to me.

Forward fold pigeon got the best of me. It was my First class since my best friend, Shirin was killed. My eyes welled up. Good God. How humiliating. I kept my forehead down and waited for it to pass in hopes that the others would be too embroiled in hip-opening hell to notice.

But then, unexpectedly, like the way you find yourself, against your better judgment, liking the once obnoxious boy who relentlessly taunted you in middle school, who you vowed would remain your nemesis, I found my heart opening to yoga.

Having a Type-A personality, I gravitated toward Ashtanga yoga. It nearly killed me. Not only was my body challenged to overcome the scars of an invasive surgery, I had to realign the several herniated discs in my neck from a hit-and-run drunk driving accident. To complicate matters, I also had scoliosis from practicing flute for so many years, without any training in the mind-body-instrument connection, which plagued me with an ensemble of muscular pains and imbalances. Yet, I forged ahead.

And then there was the First time I dragged myself through the entire Primary Series. My body took notice. After practice, I ate a meal fit for a 400-pound man on a food binge and then crashed for 5 hours, unabashedly soaking up slumber. I hadn’t started to develop the art of moving with breath and bandha. For quite some time I muscled my way through the sequence. Every muscle fiber let me hear its individual cry of exhaustion.

Striking a balance has never come easily. My distracted mind and ambitious nature resulted in several painful injuries. After my third yoga-related injury, the sagacious teaching of sthira sukham asanam, practicing with stability and ease, struck a chord. Third times a charm, especially for a Taurus. As I worked to heal, yet again, I experienced another First - jealousy on the mat. It seemed so unfair. Here I was holding on for dear life in triangle pose, while the girl two mats over effortlessly executed asanas from 4th Series. My teacher sensed my struggle. He came over to my mat and whispered seven words that permanently changed the course of my practice. This is where the real yoga begins. It was then, for the First time that I started to turn inwards and practice with intention and attention. For the First time I began to think less and feel more. Stuff started to change - my mind, my spirit, my body. Slowly, slowly an inner strength started to emerge through the web of confusion, dissatisfaction, anxiety and fear.

And, now the next leg of my journey is about to commence. Three months of study under Sharath at the Krishna Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, India. I have no idea what to expect, but that may be the very best part.

I look forward to the lifetime of Yoga Firsts that await me.

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