By Hannah Ouellette
It wasn’t something I planned on, I had just come down off of losing a significant amount of weight and the gym got to be boring. I saw an advertisement saying “$10 for 10 days of Unlimited Yoga,” so I figured for $10 what could I lose. I say this and act as if I was not intimidated or mildly afraid of what I might find when I got to the studio, but really I had serious trepidation. That trepidation led me to call the studio and leave a message. The call I got back was kind, open, and interested.
Laura Josephy, the studio manager at the time and now owner, took no less than 20 minutes of her day to talk with me about my body, my previous experience with yoga, and what I wanted out of my practice. It was like having a small therapy session in the best way. I was encouraged and excited, but like any new physical effort or practice I had preconceived notions.
I came from a weird tangential background that was an amalgam of different sports and physical practices. I had loved Pilates because in some ways even when I was heavier I could get my body into positions of flexibility other people didn’t have. (Are you sensing that mild/moderate competitiveness?) But I had only done a yoga class in college where at the end of practice each week I would compare myself to other people who made more rapid progress mastering asana. I was stuck in the asana and what I thought yoga was. So it was with this complicated background I proceeded to the then Mountain Yoga studio.
Finding whatever brazen woman that lives inside me, I decided to practice at a advanced beginner’s class taught on a Saturday. In complete honesty, I figured this was where I would have the best chance blending in. I was met by a bright sprite of a woman who radiated energy. I knew then I was in a special place. I rolled out my old mat that I had used in previous Pilates classes, thinking that I might look the part. Little did I know that back row has the heat of a small sauna, but what I noticed more was how many different types of people where in attendance.
Often when people say the word yoga, usually one of two scenarios come to mind: a nubile barely dressed young woman arching gracefully into something that makes you sigh in awe and cringe in presumed sympathy pains, or the wise and hardtack bodied old yogi who seems to levitate off his prayer rug. Of course because I am a slightly hyperbolic person I imagined both of these types of individuals and they also didn’t sweat.
That wasn’t the case in this class. I found myself comfortable with not only my choice to practice but with myself in a new way. As the practice began the directions were clear and intuitive making it easy to try and not stare at the people around me. Did I get lost and confused at times? Obviously, but I became less of a critic and breathed. Granted, the breaths I took were mostly off-cue but at least I was trying something that I didn’t know about.
As the class came to a close I felt warm and unified with my fellow practioner in a way I had never experienced at the gym or in other sports. I was so grateful, that I spoke with my instructor for a solid 15 minutes after class. Again, there was no rush because she wanted to provide advice and assessment that would help me on my way.
Like with anything, a large part of my beginnings with yoga was spent comparing my asana practice to others and trying to make sure I broke a sweat in class. This began to cause a minor burn out because I was in a tangent of sweat and burn without breath. So as I continued to attend more and more classes I began to need something different. That is when Mysore came into my life.
The Mysore four-week program was where I really found my stride. The intimacy of small class and the sequencing became more important than comparing. It became about my breathing and how that resonated with the others practicing. The progression of movement was linked with breath, but I was also developing a community of people who loved yoga. Through that love of yoga, I found myself falling in love with the people as much as the practice because they were there breathing with me. Suddenly, I was practicing with people who had been working on asana for years, but they were grunting or deep breathing right alongside me. It was an eye-opening experience because yoga wasn’t about mastering complicated poses in that space. It was instead how unified breath with other people and the self created a conduit for a deeper awareness that where I could go on my own.
Yoga is something people come to in different ways, but when you find a community of people who love it and want to teach more than the physical aspect of it, that is when you truly find yoga. I am glad everyday that I saw that advertisement and that the people Tahoe Yoga Shala keep embracing me. Every time I find myself losing focus, there is always a kind friend who tells, listens, or shows me a new facet of yoga and how I might bring that to my wheel house.