I Fought Yoga...and Yoga Won
I wasn’t always so into yoga. Actually that is a huge understatement. I hated yoga! As a teenager I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. Everyone—my doctors, family, friends, strangers—urged me to practice yoga. I was even required to take yoga as my only gym class throughout high school. I tried yoga in gym class, yoga at the YMCA, yoga at dance studios, but honestly I was so bored by every class. Even worse, I found it physically painful, because I had little conscious awareness of my body, joints, and breath. I kept trying yoga but it only frustrated me more. The entire concept was out of my grasp.
Out of high school yoga was once again shoved in my face as the answer to my pain, sleep issues and negative attitude—this time by a former boyfriend. He had found a studio that felt like home to him and was diving in deep, practicing daily and working at the studio for free classes. After weeks of constant pressure from him I gave in and went to a class. I immediately felt uncomfortable with the teacher’s approach and hands on assists. After that class I honestly hated yoga more than ever. I clearly did not vibe with this particular teacher and found the class very physically painful for my body. I never wanted to go back. The teacher went so far as to tell my ex that I was not the right one for him, since there must be something not right about me since I could not get into yoga, much less ever become “enlightened.”
After a difficult split from that boyfriend years later, to a similar tune of my not being “enlightened enough,” I said to myself: this is bullshit. I can figure out this yoga stuff too! If he can do it there’s no way I can’t. This led me down a life changing trip. Through much needed self work, I took on a new outlook and approach to life. I was going to be positive and I was going to happy, no matter what. So this time when I got back on the yoga mat with a bit more self-awareness, I loved yoga! It got easier with every practice and soon I was hooked.
I finally found an amazing studio that felt like my first shala or real yoga home, and my first legit teacher, John Smrtic. His music and dharma talks resonated so deeply with me that it sometimes seemed as if the class was written just for me. I started taking classes daily and became so comfortable that I loved trying other styles and teacher’s classes as well. Sometimes I found myself even taking two classes a day, as I just couldn’t seem to get enough. I found something beyond the physical—I was finding a way to be with myself, to like myself, a way to feel cosmic without being chemically induced. The feeling and experience was totally electric. There was no turning back now. Because my mind, attitude and outlook changed, my physical body changed as well. Working with talented and informed teachers, I was able to practice with less pain.
I was so enthralled with everything yoga that I began to have what I would call a spiritual crisis, a kind of nervous breakdown and breakthrough. I even had to drop out of school, as anywhere I went that felt un-yogic, there would be inexplicable interference. Literally books would fall on me, people pushing me, and other uncomfortable experiences that just make you want to crawl out of your skin; these things made me feel that I was being forced out or told to leave. I started to isolate myself in my apartment and read yogic scriptures, only leaving to go to the local coop for groceries and to yoga classes and related workshops. I wanted so desperately to be a spiritual person, to be a real yogi, that everything other than Yoga was simply a waste of time holding me back from what I was always longing for: that peace of mind it felt like I was finally so close to reaching.
Being extremely passionate by nature, my first thought was to dive deeper and run away to the caves of the Himalayas, where I could truly renounce myself from the material world like the great mystic yogis of India. But, as a Queens native with a Sicilian mother (who made it clear that the Himalayan escape wasn’t exactly going to be an option), I resolved that if I all wanted to do was go to yoga class and find a way to spend my time feeling spiritual, I should of course become a yoga teacher! From all of my yogic studies, I was realizing that a big component of being happy was making others happy—selfless service. And so after about 4 months of this rigorous sattvik life, I went off to become a yoga teacher so I could serve and transform the lives of others.
Teacher training was exactly what I had been longing for. A spiritual bootcamp full of beautiful souls whose impact forever changed my life. Five years later, after teaching thousands of classes and practicing daily, my love and obsession with yoga has only continued. Once I could see how much more there was to yoga than just “boring, slow movements,” there was nothing more fascinating to me. The mind-body connection, the power of witnessing how we play out habits and tendencies from daily life on the mat, the way mindfulness changed my world, and ultimately discovering that the way I move and live with my physical body was actually making my chronic pain worse. By remolding through asana I was able to manage it much better. I fought yoga and I fought it hard, but what I was really fighting was myself. When I let yoga win, I was truly the one who won.