Yoga is a practice which exibits a natural cycle. It’s about the breath, and like the tides of the ocean the breath rises and falls. I started my yoga practice probably ten years ago. My boyfriend at the time was a hockey player and he took his level of fitness very seriously. He discovered yoga and he encouraged me to practice also.
I remember my first class. It was a cold and rainy evening in Vancouver and we went to a Bikram studio on 12th and Oak St. Yoga studios had just started to mushroom allover in major cities. I dressed in a loose t-shirt and shorts. The room was large with a mirror that spanned the length of one side of the room. The carpet was the industrial flat grey type. There were heaters blowing hot air into the room to warm it up to 95-100 degrees Fahrenheit. It was not an inviting experience especially with the funky odor, probably from sweat and maybe something else too.
There were mats and towels spread out within a comfortable distance of each other. My boyfriend put his mat not far from mine. People either laid flat on their back or stretched – their bodies reflected in the large mirror. I sat on my butt, lotus position style taking it all in. The women wore body fitting spandex gear and the men wore shorts only. More people trickled into the room and soon the empty spots between mats were filled up with mats. People were only an arms-length away from each other. It was a full class.
Once the class got started I found I was lost in the vocabulary and just watched what others did, especially my boyfriend who was considerately looking out for me and encouraging me. Once the sweat started to pour out of my body my t-shirt was soaked and flopped around like an inconvenient yoke. My shorts were too wide at the legs and some poses exposed my butt. But I don’t think anybody cared. We were all suffering the heat and exhaustion of the asanas. As a first time practitioner I did okay. I was able to stay in the room and also I did not throw up.
I survived my first class and felt pretty good afterwards. On top of feeling a sense of accomplishment there was also that euphoric afterglow of a good sweat like great sex. I understood then why people fell in love with the yoga practice which turned out for me a momentary spell of addiction.
Lately my practice has become less regular, but what I have observed with my relationship to it is I practice yoga when I am in need of salvation. Whenever my life is in turmoil the practice of yoga stills my mind, body and spirit. I remember times when I would be holding a pose, my skin sweaty, my breath slightly labored, and I’d be thinking – “Thank you for saving me.”
Memorable times in my life when I needed saving were during relationship breakups. I would dive into relationships with joy and hope that this is it! Then when it fell apart then I fell apart too. I practiced yoga fanatically as though it was my lifeline. My body looked lean. I was strong. My gait was confident. My breath was fluid. On the flip side of that rigorous fanaticism I ignored other aspects of my life. That experience showed my capacity to obsess too much, and the balance that yoga is supposed to achieve would tip towards a kind of mental disease.
Now I’ve settled down in a marriage. The relationship yo-yo’s has stopped, but this doesn’t mean I’m immune to relationship challenges. I do recognize that the level of commitment is different in a marriage than the other ones I had. I’ve reevaluated my need to practice yoga again. I miss the things that the yoga practice taught me: acceptance, humility, challenge, consistency, letting go, stillness – among other things. Yoga is a constant sense of renewal and probably this is what I need most about it. I still on occasion go to a studio to learn something new, but the cost of yoga classes these days can be expensive so I practice at home instead. But that’s not an ideal environment either as there are distractions or at least I allow these distractions to curb my intention.
I told my husband a couple of years ago that I’ve wanted to get my teacher’s certification in yoga. Finally I’m taking the step towards realizing that goal. I’ve registered for the training at a studio in South LA. It’s a wonderful place based upon the founding concept of the founder and executive director Raja Michelle of Green Tree Yoga and Meditation.
In 1992, I watched the South Los Angeles uprising on television. The images and exposure of deep racism and brutality shook me. My eyes were opened to the systemic injustice of our world and I set my intentions on a life of service. Years later, I discovered yoga and meditation. These practices not only woke me up and helped heal my personal suffering, but I saw how it helped others to foster acceptance and to be present in this chaotic world. After twelve years of personal practice and teaching, I wanted to serve in a bigger way.
We would like to believe that yoga is available to all communities, but the truth is, it’s not.
Looking at the yoga landscape of Los Angeles, with studios opening on seemingly every other block, there are still very few studios that exclusively offer donation-based classes and even fewer studios with students or teachers of color. In fact, there is only one other yoga studio in the entire area of South Los Angeles.
On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in 2013, I founded the nonprofit organization Green Tree Yoga & Meditation in South Los Angeles. Ours is not your “typical” yoga studio—and we wouldn’t have it any other way. All classes are donation-based and open to yogis of all abilities. If we’re to stand on the pillars of the history of these practices, it goes without saying that we provide access and opportunity regardless of race, gender, orientation, body type, age, and income. Our mantra is to “allow that which connects us to flourish and to dissolve that which separates us.”