Many things have changed in my life – school, work, state, country, but one thing has remained constant – my yoga practice. I did not realize just how long I’ve been practicing until a teacher asked in a class recently. I did some quick math and realized I have been practicing yoga for more than 20 years!
What makes me keep going back?
Why is a studio one of the first things I seek out when I move to a new place?
Tonight as I walked home from the studio in Düsseldorf, I pondered these questions.
My interest in yoga began when I was a teenager. I don’t recall if I was first introduced through a home video course or at the racquetball club we belonged to when I was a kid. I do know that it was one thing that made me feel graceful and confident and strong.
When I went to college I kept up my practice at a 24 hour fitness studio that I would pedal to after class on my town bike. I began to learn more about body movement and used yoga as a way to stretch out muscles strained from bicycle racing.
During my postdoc we lived in the Texas hill country and I’m not certain that I practiced but we did take up country dancing. Which is kind of the same thing…? Maybe??? This two years was a blur of working during the day and teaching at night. While I was a charter member of the local YMCA, I’m sure I had stretches where I didn’t train as much as I’d prefer. I spent most of my time either driving to work or working.
Louisiana is where I again returned to my practice, training at the local YMCA, but I soon found the training in a open space near the noisy weight racks to be a little less than zen. This is when I discovered the peacefulness of a true yoga studio. I began to practice at yoga bliss with some skilled instructors. At this time I was really in to running, I completed a half marathon and trained for a full. I also returned again to bike racing. Yoga became an essential part of my recovery program.
In North Carolina, I became friends with a German expat and learned she trained in hot yoga, so one day I went to the studio and found the perfect combination – Louisiana climate + yoga! Most people won’t believe it, but I actually missed the hot, humid climate of Louisiana when I moved to North Carolina. The studio became my oasis a few nights a week. I enjoyed the physical challenge and deep stretching of hot yoga practice.
When I moved to Germany I wasn’t sure how I’d practice since I was only beginning to learn German. This is when I made a spectacular discovery. I stumbled upon the magic of learning a language through movement. I found a studio that had two English speaking instructors. First I only went to their classes. Then, one day, I wanted to go to class, but it would be taught in German, and I figured “I might be learning German, but I can speak yoga, so maybe I can do this”. I went up to the instructor, explained I was learning German and asked her to correct me if a pose was wrong. As we flowed through the poses I was amazed at how much German I could understand, but also how my body simple knew what to do. Most poses follow a sequence and after decades of practice my body knew what to expect.
Now we come full circle: what keeps me coming back? I believe it is a craving for balance and understanding my body and how I move. Also, funny enough, I don’t usually make friends at yoga, although over time I’ll certainly begin to recognize a friendly face, but simple knowing I’m with like-minded people is a comforting experience. I believe this spirit of belonging is one thing that keeps me coming back. Oh and that familiar tightness is my left hamstring that spring up if I run too hard… or the tightness is my shoulders after a long day on the computer. So, again it’s a mind and body craving.
Why is a studio one of the first things I seek out when I move? Perhaps this is my attempt to find familiarity and peace, in the midst of changing environments and circles of people. I associate a yoga studio with the chance to escape from everything for 60 to 90 minutes. No phones, no speaking, no thinking about anything except my breathe and movement. The studio becomes my home. The one place I can go and know that in the midst of the chaos of my life this one place will always be the same. For this next 90 minutes, I will know what happens next and if I happen to get lost a caring and compassionate guide will come along and help me make small adjustments to find my balance.
I do believe that this is why I continue my practice. I might pull anchor and sail across a new sea but when I land and drop anchor again, it will be there waiting for me. Much like a sailor seeking out a seaside inn to rest and find nourishment, so my practice provides nourishment for my soul on this journey through life. I find it again every stop along the way. The simple beauty of my practice is that although I, and my studio and my teacher may change, the practice stays the same. Downward facing dog is the same in California and Louisiana and Germany. The only thing that changes is me and my increasing gratitude for my practice and the people who teach me how to understand my body, nurture my soul and be kind to my spirit.