Guest Blog: Stephanie Anderson

I don’t know why I started coming to practice. Wait. Yeah, I do. I started because a friend gave me a mat and another couple of Yoga on High friends gave me free passes. I was kinda looking for something I could have for only me. I had just gotten out of a 7-year relationship/4 year engagement. My ex was still living with me and things were not good on a day-to-day basis. I was trying to find something that was my own: a life that was not as someone’s caretaker, but a life of love and giving, for others and myself, a life where living paycheck to paycheck, getting hammered, snorting coke, and trying to impress everyone and be everything didn’t take center stage. But that had been me for so long. I knew I didn’t want that, but without it I did not know who I was. I didn’t walk into the Mysore room to find myself. But somehow what is what happened. I have a friend that calls me “Pig Pen.” That came about as I talked about my first days coming to practice. I would finish my cigarette and try to spit out the last taste of whiskey about half a block before I got to the front door of Yoga on High. I thought no one could smell it in my sweat. I’m pretty sure everyone smelled it in my sweat.

Especially my teacher. He never judged and still doesn’t. But he pushed me in a direction I was not sure I wanted to give into: A daily practice?! A study of tradition?! So I was not letting it. I cut corners and did what I wanted to do. I was not going to let yoga or Taylor be the boss. I wanted so badly to have control of my own life, and that ego and feeling was seeping into my practice. But something kept me going. It seems something was seeping into me that I was not aware of: a devoted teacher who believed in me, a community of people who supported me, and all this was happening before 7am and without a word said. I felt it. So I kept coming.

Then my teacher left for a trip to India. Thank god. No more pushing through difficult poses. I was going to coast. I could still go to practice, but I would not have to do hard work and I could brag to my friends. Hell, Brandi and Val seemed like pushovers. This was going to be the break I needed.

Then I hurt myself. I am not sure what happened, really. Looking back ,I feel that the duality I was living was pretty stressful on my body. So, I hurt myself. My shoulder would not move like it used to and poses hurt. I did not know what to do. Like I said, I kept walking into that room because something was happening that I could not figure out. Now I may not ever figure it out. I stopped going to Mysore practice because I did not know how to deal with it. If I could not do “x” pose, then what is the point of going? Val reached out to me on Facebook. I told her what was going on. She asked me if I wanted to get together that Friday and talk about it instead of going to led practice. I said yes.

That morning with Val was the first day of my practice. We talked about breathing, about the limbs of yoga, meditating with mala beads, about the history and life of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. I was very grateful for that day. She asked me about my pain. I told her. She helped me redefine it. Then she said, “What if your shoulder hurts for a long time? Are you going to wait? Are you not going to come?” Without hesitation, I said “no.” “Yoga is not simply asana”, she told me. I could start feeling my wall crumble. Damn it.

I kept going. Val and Brandi helped me through modifications for poses that irritated my shoulder. I concentrated on breath. I studied outside of the Mysore room. These things all felt very good and I was working on a better understanding.

But I was not giving in completely. I had an ego to protect, a wall to reinforce. Yoga was not going to break me. I kept going, but kept my chest puffed. Apparently, that showed. One morning I was making things exceptionally difficult. I was getting into old habits of cutting corners and when things were hard, I got frustrated and showed it. Val met me at the door as I was leaving. “Have you ever listened to ‘Shake It Out’ by Florence and the Machine?” I told her no. “Go listen to it. Go home and listen to it before you do anything else. A line in the song says ‘it’s hard to dance with the devil on your back, so shake him off.’ I think you need to listen to it all.” I walked home thinking, “what did she see while I was in that room”? Yeah, I know I am not letting go of my past, but is it showing? Yeah, I know I keep a hard exterior, but is that affecting my practice?

I listened to that song. Damn it. If there could have been a microphone in my heart, it would have belted those same lyrics: “And it’s hard to dance with a devil on your back, And given half the chance would I take any of it back, It’s a fine romance but it’s left me so undone, It’s always darkest before the dawn”.

That is what was happening. I was trying to find something. I was looking so hard to find something to split me open. I could not see it. I was looking so hard I could not see it. I knew I did not want to go back to what was. I wanted to move forward. I had to just let it happen. And without me being aware, it was.

So I’m letting it happen. And it has made me better. You know, I still resist. I know I do. I was unaware of the ego I built when I was hurting, physically and emotionally. I still go every morning. I can no longer imagine a life not going. My practice is always there. Nothing has changed. My teacher (and now friend still) supports me. My community (and now friends) is still made up of the most amazing people I have ever had the opportunity to love. Like I said, nothing has changed… But me.

“Looking for heaven, found the devil in me. Well, what the hell, I’m gonna let it happen to me.”