I wasn’t sure what to expect from a yoga class. As a distance runner for 16 years, I looked at yoga like a really long stretching session, and stretching wasn’t something I particularly enjoyed; even a five minute warm-up before a Saturday long run was something I typically avoided. Considering that, it should be of no surprise to me why my body eventually stopped, screaming (preferably in a thick New York accent) at me through one last injury, “STOP! For crying out loud! I’m trying to rest ova heeeerrrre!”

Feeling broken and tired day after day, I laced up anyway to head out on the roads I used to find a sense of balance upon as my feet would beat in a steady rhythm upon the hard concrete, trying to reclaim some sense of previous victory. However, as the runner’s highs wained, my body hurting in bad ways much more than good, I decided to trade in my coveted Newtons for a pair of tight Gap Fit yoga pants and a flowing top. It was like mourning the death of a loved one I had spent 16 years with and whose loss of companionship would be hard to overcome, despite the fact that it had left my life inflicting me with a broken ankle from which I would never fully heal.

Rolling around in my head were thoughts about how fat I was going to get. My goodness, I beat out some serious milage every week–some weeks up to 40 miles–all across the back roads of Hendersonville to maintain being 20 pounds overweight. Despite the loss of fat, I was strong and fit; I looked forward to heading out on my Saturday long runs, enjoying the companionship and encouragement the local running club (The Hendersonville Running Club) provided. Now forever gone would be that sense of fast-moving adventure drenched in blisters and Gatorade, leaving a gapping hole within me that the inner-peace and hippiedom of yoga would have to fight to fill again in order to make me feel complete.

Once I came to terms with the demise of my running days, I signed up at My Hot Yoga Place in Hendersonville, deciding that their website looked clean and welcoming, the kind of place I could learn to enjoy visiting ‘maybe just okay’ a few times a week. I was certain that yoga couldn’t provide the same kind of fellowship and personal growth as the running club. After all, what could possibly happen during a glorified stretching session within a dim room while occupying the limited space of a squishy rectangular mat? The entire idea of it conjured up visions of being a restless preschooler trapped on a cot during nap time, except my body is longer and thicker now, unable to move around and contort in unimaginable ways.

Pulling into the parking lot before my first class in a two-week series I had purchased, I looked toward the yoga studio, examining what I saw from behind the glass; I was window shopping, seeing if they might have a space for women like me: not quite fit anymore and a little bit lumpy. I stepped out of the car, pulled awkwardly at my clothing, and threw my newly purchased Gaiam mat bag across my shoulder, a $40 purchase which seemed expensive for a thing like yoga, but not as expensive as running by any means.

When I entered the building an aroma filled my senses. A doTERRA diffuser sat on the counter, exuding an ambiance of peace and welcoming. Behind the counter the instructor smiled wholly, a sense of purpose and gratitude in her eyes. She greeted me and instantly made me feel at home. I knew right away that I needed to know this woman because she might possibly have something profound to teach me.

The other yogis standing around weren’t as intimidating as my stereotyping had perceived them to be when I had assumed they would all be much too lovely and zen for a woman like me. I expected to see exposed, hard abs, and people with bodies which could move gracefully while lifting a freight train off of the ground and tossing it carelessly onto the highway, the entire time breathing in and out, slowly and calmly. However, I couldn’t have pegged them more wrong; they were all so completely normal. Some wore baggy shirts, others wore the sports bras; some were small, some were bigger; some were tall, some were short like me. Everyone smiled and seemed happy to be there, so I decided that maybe this whole yoga thing might be okay.

I wasn’t sure what I had thought the word ‘hot’ would mean when it preceeded ‘yoga’  in the title of their business when I signed my life away on a $25 promotion over the internet. When I walked into the yoga room it was like opening the door to a sauna, the humidity almost stealing my breath away. People were already positioned on their backs upon their mats, all evenly spaced and orderly upon the floor, sleeping like dead fish who had recently washed upon the shore in the blazing heat of summer in a place somewhere far off where the sun had just stopped shining.

I laid my mat down in the most inconspicuous spot I could find, closest to the wall and toward the back. Fear rolled through my head in choppy, nervous sentences; although, I have to admit, they came much more slowly than they had in the parking lot when my heart was racing and my palms were sweaty with thoughts of playing Twister in a small space while trying not to make my butt look so big.

Ambient music had filled the room, and I started to drift off to sleep when the teacher came in. Rommy, with her voice soft and inviting, is the kind of woman who instantly makes you feel like a little kid being held by an adoring mother waiting to tell you some deep truth to make growing up a lot less complicated. Her very presence gives off an air of quality and strength, a woman sure of herself in all of her inner-beauty and lovely personal ways.

As we stood and moved through the motions, I had to look up frequently. I messed up the flows left and right, but pretty soon I got the hang of it. It took so much focus, both internally and with keen awareness of my surroundings. I held poses and engaged muscles that had been dormant, focusing on my core to hold my body firmly in place. The sense of control it gave me was intense, and I started to enjoy it, even finding myself smiling and having a good time. Less and less as each minute passed did I worry about the person on the mat beside me, or the one behind me I had worried about when I was doing downward-facing dog, feeling sorry that they had to look at me in compromising positions at the window of my behind. Somehow, none of that seemed to matter anymore. Rommy assured everyone the whole time by whispering things like “nice” and “beautiful”. She floated about the room, her very presence exuding the glorious beauty of someone who has reached a point of well-being that we all aspire to achieve.

When the class ended, I walked out into the lobby where Rommy greeted me yet again. “How did you like it?”

I almost started crying because I felt so good, like I had left more stress behind than I carried in with me; I had watched it fall in large droplets from the end of my nose in that heated room. “I feel soooo good!” I responded, and with such gratitude because I was almost in a state of disbelief. “I wish I had tried this 10 years ago. I could have saved myself a lot of grief.”

I returned religiously for the following two weeks, the impact yoga was making on my outlook on life rapidly changing. The Executive noticed, too, saying, “Yes, sign up to take regularly if you need to.” The results were that drastic.

Later Rommy would explain that my body was doing no more than releasing years of tension and stress, my cortisol dropping finally and my organs working more properly again. The way I was eating started to change with each class, but not because I was trying to lose weight; it was because I had started to deeply care for myself as a human being, wanting to nurture my body in the best possible ways. I loaded up on vegetables, healthy grains, a reasonable amount of protein, and healthy fats. I didn’t worry about calories and fat grams; I ate when I was hungry and filled up on nutrient dense foods and recipes. My body would start responding. Within the first couple of months, I had dropped 15 pounds that had been hanging around like a toxic friend, always looming around every corner with passive-aggressive comments, seriously taxing my positivity.

Rommy explained it. “Your body is simply releasing weight, and that is how we must think of it. Our bodies will naturally return to where it needs to be if we take care of it and feed it healthy things.” So that’s exactly what I did.

I have now been a regular yogi for 5 months, and I haven’t missed a day of running much since I started. For years running was my release; it made me happy and calmed me down. After having kids, it became a chore like anything else as I ran from soccer to the grocery to home, cleaning little feet in murky bathwater after a day of outside play and brushing tangles out of hair while voices screamed. I didn’t realize until I took up space on a cheap, purple yoga mat–focusing intently to move my body and hold it in place with utter concentration and self-respect–just how much my body had needed, possibly for years, to be left alone to explore controlled movement and stillness in a limited space. I have found my own sense of joy and peace there, exactly the way it should look for me.

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The more I practice yoga, the more I open myself up freely to new and wonderful things, all the while pinpointing resources of negativity in my life and shedding them easily. I’m  enlightened and inspired. Although I had been moving at warped speed before becoming a yogi, I wasn’t getting anywhere. I was moving in circles instead of looking down the path and moving forward with a sense of clarity. My mind feels open now to move freely.

The holistic aspect of a yoga practice is a remarkable thing! It has the power to transform your thinking, rewiring your brain to focus on more positive things; however, that doesn’t mean that life won’t take you on a wild rollercoaster of a ride in pursuit of that coveted place of joyful peace yoga can bring, almost magically.

These past 5 months have brought some odd moments of brutal honesty that I have had to face within myself which was the only way to release with a sense of finality the heavy weight of negativity. I had to give up bad habits like eating disorders and pushing my body beyond extremes. I had to face my own demons and find the sources toxicity in my life that had been feeding savagely on me for much too long. I grew a greater appreciation for all different kinds of people as my heart opened up as widely as God needed to be. As a result, some friendships grew stronger and others had to end; I became attracted to authentic people who provided endless conversation and shared love between our commonalities while respectfully discussing differentiating things. It hasn’t been easy, but slowly, I am seeing the final picture coming together nicely, reflecting much more the kind of life I want to live, loving myself and others while respecting my health and my body.

The most important thing yoga has done for me is to release my mind again where the words are able to flow from the depths of my mind, through my fingertips, and, with each tap, bringing to life stories from the back of my mind that I have wanted to write for so long. Writing has always been all that I have been, my addiction to sharing freely stories of  life, grace and gratitude, love and loss, and overcoming difficulty while making significant gains.

And you know what? I finally upgraded my mat to a reversible Lululemon, which I covet and identify with now just as much as any pair of Newtons I have ever owned. Yoga has become me, and I hope I’m able to enjoy it for a really long time, God-willing, as I continue to let it grow me.

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As Rommy would say,

“Peace IN. Radiance OUT.”

Namaste.

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