My very first yoga class as a student was at a YMCA. That class was on New Year’s Day, not because I had made any kind of resolution, but because I had the day off from work. Looking back I think the teacher wanted to make it clear that yoga is not for the faint of heart and wanted to send people home feeling like they had run a marathon. It had the opposite effect. I knew nothing, had no expectations, all I knew was that downdog hurt my shoulders and was absolutely not a resting posing as she kept repeating. I don’t know what happened in savasana, translated as corpse pose, which is the resting part of yoga, where the idea is that you meditate after an asana practice laying flat like a corpse. Something happened. I felt peace like I only felt one other time before that day. For someone with a busy mind that never stops it was a god send.

It didn’t happen in a summer garden with zen sand sculptures. It didn’t happen under the instruction of a famous teacher with extraordinary talent. It didn’t happen in a studio. It didn’t happen in perfect circumstances. It happened at the YMCA where the sound of 500 pounds of weight hitting the floor rattled the walls. I learned that day that it is possible to still the mind. It is possible to shut up that never ending litany of chatter telling me I’m inadequate. I walked out of that class with hope.

Two years passed before I felt that peace again in a yoga class and again it was at that same YMCA. It happened one other time during my teacher training which was virtual so I was at home on the floor. Thankfully the cat was asleep rather than demanding his food since I was clearly not occupied doing anything important.
I say all of that because I moved away from the YMCA. I needed more than what it could provide. I needed depth. The YMCA is a fitness center and as such it is spread out over many different options for physical health. I needed to find that peace again. I needed to be in a place where the teachers were free to talk about meditation, energy flow, to explore poses, and to chant OM.

I found it and more in a studio but I still did not understand that yoga is more than exercise. I honestly thought that if I could do King Dancer or Bird of Paradise or workout hard enough then I would get relief from anxiety, ADHD, and a host of other issues. I kept trying. It wasn’t working. Covid hit and suddenly I was stuck with youtube videos and as a result I felt like I was back at the YMCA. Note, I wasn’t looking for physical fitness or flexiblity or weight loss. I wanted relief from mental afflictions or kleishas as they are called in the yoga sutras.

I won’t go into how I ended up in a virtual yoga teacher training but I was floored when I learned there is so much more to yoga than poses. My teacher often mentioned things but these were brief explanations of things like ahimsa which means nonharming or nonviolent. I clung to those without understanding she was drawing on books written thousands of years ago. It wasn’t until I went through teacher training that I learned about the yoga sutras and some guy named Iyengar (in case you too don’t know who he is, he brought yoga to America). Most importantly, that’s when I learned the goal of yoga is mental muscle not physical health. For a few thousand years yoga was pretty much meditation. Gymnastics didn’t come into the picture until a couple hundred years ago.

People often ask, “where do you see yourself in five years?” Had you asked me that after that first yoga class, being an instructor would not have come to mind. Five years later I wasn’t one either. My journey is slow as molasses in winter. It was another three years before I went through a 200 hour program. Now I teach at that very YMCA.

I look at the people in my classes at the Y and think, how can I create the space that allows them to experience it as I do, a mental activity. It’s extremely difficult. The Y isn’t set up for that. And yet somehow that is where I found samadhi even if it was brief. Just knowing it can happen keeps me growing and in search of what it takes to find it again.

The Y might be the last place in the world where you’d expect to find a meditative experience but that’s where I found mine. It isn’t the place, it’s the person, it’s what is inside of us that creates it. The important thing is to walk into it without expectation. That’s when it finds you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: