How Yoga Found Me by: Jen Spangenberg
The first time the word "yoga" was ever uttered to me, in this lifetime anyway, I was in the middle of my
raging teenage youth. I had some friends that were in a Krishna punk band and happened to be devotees at the
local temple in Philadelphia. Sunday is known as friends and family day. One weekend a group of us went to the temple, unaware of what to expect. That Sunday we learned how to chant, that shoes are kept outdoors and that goat milk tastes gross. I also discovered what yoga was.
We entered the temple to see our friend Mikey, who lived there, doing sun salutations in front of a large stage filled with shiny, colorful decorations and statues for worship. I remember seeing him in his orange/peach outfit and the iconic shaved head with a small patch of hair. He seamlessly flowed through some sort of meditation, totally oblivious to the world around him.
Although that was decades ago, I will never forget that image of him. A time lapse of my past engraved in my memory, replaying over and over. At the time, it didn't seem odd that a group of 14-16 year olds were hanging out in a Krishna temple. But, when I look back at it now it
seems like a special, unique moment that I was destined to experience. I look back and realize that I was slowly being prepped for the current moment. But, it's just the type of person I am; a slow learner and I still needed more convincing. Yet, fast forward 24 years later and here we are.
My life as an Ashtanga yoga practitioner has been far from easy, yet I wouldn't change it for anything else. It has been the most raw, unforgiving, powerful mirror I have ever had the courage to look through. It was uncomfortable to look at and painful in my body. I was sore, but I never thought about giving up….at least not in the beginning. But, I will admit there was a time that I gave up on the practice and I am thankful for that time. Without it, I never would have realized just how important it really was. In fact, it made me realize that it wasn't just a choice anymore, it had become a mandatory part of my life.
The timeline of my life has pretty much been split into two since than...before yoga, and after yoga. Before yoga, I was a shy, hunched over, borderline agoraphobic mother of two. I had chronic sinus infections, restless leg syndrome that often woke me up all night long and depression that hit me like clockwork every 3 months. By the time I was 35, all of my anger and frustration was building up and waiting for the perfect moment to explode. My friend, Danielle, suggested I practice Mysore with her and I laughed out loud. I had never done a single athletic thing in my life. After a lot of convincing I agreed to go to my first class. But of course, only to observe. I wouldn't even agree to try it. I only agreed to sit in the back of the mysore room and watch from afar. I figured I could get her off my back by just spending some time watching her practice and have the conversation with her afterwards that it "wasn't for me". However, I was totally wrong.
I watched as they all seamlessly flowed through their Primary, or the Intermediate series, practice. Peaceful, warm, and intriguing. I heard them breathing and it was the perfect soothing soundtrack to life. I want to do that. "That looks easy", I thought only because they made it look so effortless. And I couldn't have been more wrong. Of course, in the beginning it was difficult for me when I could not even get through one sun salutation without gasping for air. I needed constant help just to be able to get through Sun A & B for weeks. I would ask my friend each week about my soreness, or new pains that I had felt. The answers were always "keep practicing" and so I did. If I hadn't paid for the 2 months upfront, I probably would have quit. In those 2 months I saw several new people who only lasted a few classes, each had quit before their 8 week session had ended. But I was frugal and I am so glad I was.
The day that I realized I was doing something more than just physical exercise was a day I will never forget. I stood at the top of my mat, after months of practice under my belt. I was only in the standing sequence, and all of a sudden my mind went blank. I stood there in silence and void of movement. I didn't know what to do. I stared at the ground for a few seconds, though it felt like much longer and still nothing. I looked over at my teacher and again nothing. I didn't have the answers and I wasn't going to be given the answers and so I stood there frozen. I got embarrassed and ran to the back of the room behind a makeshift wall. I sat there on the chair balling my eyes out while trying to be as quiet as possible. The first thing that came to mind was how I could leave the studio without anyone noticing. I needed to get out of there asap. I had no idea what the hell was going on in my head.
After a few minutes, my friend come back to see if I was okay. I couldn't answer her, until she said these words to me, "we have all cried on the mat." I was in total shock. I had no idea it was normal to experience this kind of emotion, let alone cry while doing yoga and in front of other people. That day I knew that the mat was my mirror for life. It was the thing that taught me I mattered. It taught me that I wasn't alone and I was strong enough to find my own answers.
One of the most magical things is that it truly is a one size fits all practice. With every new pose, I was able to modify to fit my ability. As I was starting to see progress in my body, my mind eventually started to untangle as well. Things that previously stressed me out, started to not bother me as much. I had patience with other people, and started to weed out all the negativity in my life. I was able to begin breathing through my nose, and my sinus infections went away and have never come back. My depression ceased and all of a sudden I was a more patient, kind and understanding mother, wife, and friend.
The practice of Ashtanga yoga changed my life. It continues to show me what I need to work on in my life without discrimination. The practice believed in me until I was able to believe in myself. It supported me when I was alone and made me feel whole. It has shown me the mirror into my soul and showed me how to love myself. But most of all, it has shown me that magic does indeed exist and is inside our own hearts waiting to be discovered.