A Deeper Practice- by Danielle
When I found Iyengar Yoga in La Crosse 2007, I immediately fell in love. If you asked me why I liked it, I probably would have told you that I noticed my flexibility and strength improving--it was all physical. I had heard about yoga as a spiritual/mental practice, but that didn’t really fit into my view of what yoga was at that time. I was quite a mess spiritually, trying very hard (well...TOO hard) to find what I believed and where I belonged, and so that wasn’t even on my radar at that time. That’s a whole different story and can of worms, so I won’t get into that here, but I wanted to write about how yoga is actually so much more than just a physical practice--maybe not yet for you, but give it time...
Looking back, I can see that I also liked yoga because it was a nice, quiet space from my crazy-busy college life, and from my crazy-busy brain. I’m the type of person where my mind runs a million miles a minute all the time--when I sleep, I dream like crazy; when I’m commuting to work, I have to keep Post-its nearby (and often arrive at work with Post-its littered all over the passenger seat); and when I’m doing tasks, whether at work or at home, I’m multitasking like you wouldn’t believe. My head is NOISY. And yoga when I’m in a yoga class, even to this day, my brain is actually quiet. It’s nice.
People tend to come to yoga for similar reasons: They heard or know it’s good for them. They are inflexible and want to build flexibility. They want the gentle exercise. They’re looking for a place of peaceful quiet. But I have seen--in myself and others--that one’s reason for coming to yoga tends to evolve over time. For me, it took about 11 years...for some, it happens faster.
I had a huge lapse in yoga between graduating from UW-L and moving to SW Wisconsin to teach. I started to get back into my practice when I found the Midwest Yoga and Oneness Festival in Dubuque (back then, it was called the Dubuque Yoga & Oneness Festival). I attended it a few years in a row, and at the festival in May 2018, I was in a class with Julia Theisen (owner of Body & Soul and one of the people who runs the festival). She was talking about how yoga is physical, but it is also so much more than that, and you cannot separate the two. At that time--again, not that long ago!--I was like, “Pssh, yoga is ONLY physical for me!” (*insert flippant hand swipe here*). And I went on with my life.
Shortly thereafter (June 2018), I started Yoga Teacher Training at B-1 in Dubuque. It took yoga to a whole new level for me. Instead of practicing casually, I was practicing multiple times per week--I was being forced, in a way, to go deeper into myself than I had ever ventured before. It was transformational, and YTT really showed me the power of yoga and its good buddy, mindfulness. It really took me being thrown into a constant, consistent practice to change my mindset--to see yoga as something more than just movement--because I wasn’t making that connection when my practice was sporadic.
I know that when people start yoga, especially if they’re brand new, they’re just trying to learn the postures and keep up in class. There is nothing wrong with that! But there comes a point where you become comfortable in your practice, and your awareness shifts to a different place during class. For some people this happens naturally, and for others, it takes an instructor to help. Some are fast at finding this, and some are slow (again, for me it was 11+ years before I made the connection!).
This is why during class--often during/after balancing poses, when we tend to beat ourselves up for falling down and not doing it “well enough”--I cue people to start noticing their self-talk. What is your ego telling you? Are you berating yourself for falling out? Or are you kind to yourself, saying, “Eh, my balance is off today--I’ll keep working my hardest, and next time will be better.” Just beginning to notice how you talk to yourself brings forth a springboard that you can use to jump into change.
This is where mindfulness practices, like meditation, help as well. If you commit to some sort of quiet practice (there are TONS of types of mindfulness/meditation--not just sitting on a cushion for awhile), you start to get to know your brain and its patterns. Once you become aware of these patterns, you have the key--the key to make change. Even if you can’t do this at home (heck, I struggle to keep a consistent practice as well), take advantage of the meditations, the quiet moments, the Savasanas in your yoga classes--use them as a way to start to study yourself, to notice things, and to begin to make changes to become a better version of yourself.
Yoga might just be physical for now, but someday, if you keep up with the practice, it will change. And keep in mind, none of us are perfect--I constantly struggle with worry, negative self-talk, low self-confidence, and more. However, the difference is that I am now aware of these things, and I am working on them; and I am aware of them because my yoga and mindfulness practice helped shine a flashlight into those hidden corners of myself, making everything more visible and there to be worked on when I was ready to do so.
So if you’re in class and just trying to get your alignment right in Down Dog, be there with that, and that is perfectly fine! If you’re working on breathing while moving through poses, be there with that, and that is perfectly fine! If you’re just trying to touch your toes, that’s fine, too!
And if you’re in that space where you are ready to maybe take it all a little bit deeper, start to tune in and be aware of your patterns during class. Notice what happens while you’re within the four corners of your mat, pretty much confined for an hour to the silence and thoughts that are rolling through your head.
The things that happen there ON your mat also happen while you’re OFF your mat, whether you realize it or not. In bringing this awareness in, yoga and mindfulness teach you something about yourself, so that you can grow!
Tom’s dad had a great idea for a “motto” for us, and it absolutely fits. It was something along the lines of, “Rooted Studio--come grow with us.”
Thank you for being a part of our community, even if you haven’t quite made it into the studio yet. We appreciate each and every one of you, and we hope that we can help you grow, becoming the best version of yourself--one step at a time. Namaste,