Doing One's Church: How My Yoga Practice Began My Journey Of Self-Healing

Saturday, September 17, 2016

My collection of knee socks serves as a testament to my Catholic education. From pre-school through high school, we bowed our heads in memorized prayer each morning and afternoon--I can still recite most of them by heart. Despite this routine and obligation, there has never been a point in my life when I felt that I was closely aligned with religion of any kind. As I have grown older, more independent, and increasingly aware of my values, I have found that Catholicism, really is not my thing. I do not even know the last time I attended any type of church function or gathering.
Something my father always instilled in me was the importance of "doing one’s church." A man who came from a family of strong faith and Catholic schooling, my father stated, “There are many who attend church each Sunday and bow their heads in daily prayer, but what it really comes down to is how you live your life, and how you treat those around you each day.” I grew up watching my dad work two full-time jobs, and I never really understood the impact it made upon me until very recently. I saw him leave in the morning and return in the dark. In summer, it was not unusual for him to arrive home, covered in sweat and saw dust, at 9:30PM—and he had not even sat down for dinner yet. Although my father did not have time to physically kneel before an alter each Sunday, he made his church a reality through his daily actions. His example instilled in me this philosophy of doing one’s church—whatever that means to you. 
I fell into my yoga practice during my first year of college. It was more of a fitness-style class, so there were no “aums” or teachings of yogic philosophy.  Shortly after my first exposure, I discovered that a “real” yoga studio would be moving down the street from my apartment. Slowly, yoga became integrated into my workout routine. It soon became habitual for me to attend classes two-to-three times a week. I learned to crave savasana, and that I was much more comfortable in some poses than others. Upon graduation, I was hesitant to leave my small, hot yoga studio that I called home. I was sure that I would never find anything else like Soul. And in a sense, that’s true. There will never be another Soul, or another version of myself at that time--nothing will replace the point in my life when Soul Yoga Studio served my presence best. Although the studio and its teachers will always hold a special place in my heart, I (reluctantly) allowed myself to enter into a new home.
I will admit, I was hesitant about Thrive. It was different, it wasn’t like the small studio I was accustomed to in my college town, but I decided to give it a chance--I had to give it a chance. After all, I needed a yoga studio, especially one that offered a hot practice, and times that fit into my schedule. Originally, I chose Thrive because of its hot yoga classes, however, it became much more than a hot yoga studio to me. Showing up for yoga the week of my herpes diagnosis was one of the most difficult classes of my life. Each forward fold, each hip opener, each downward dog, I fought through shame. At what point does the pain between your ears outweigh the pain between your legs?
As I transitioned through this dark phase of my life, so did my yoga practice. Poses that once were my favorites, became some of the most difficult to work through because of the scars and emotional heaviness that became integrated into my body. I drifted from the idea of forcing myself into a certain practice, or committing to a pose because that was the teacher's suggestion. I stopped limiting myself to a strict, hot vinyasa practice, and began to enjoy the benefit and peace of mind that restorative poses offered me. Through this new definition of open-mindedness and mental clarity, I began a journey of self-healing, one that I am still working towards.  
This summer, I finally had the financial ability and intuitive sense to know that this was my time. I submitted my application for the 200-hour teacher training at the studio I was once so hesitant to join. During the week, it is more likely for someone to find me lounging in the nook at Thrive than in my own apartment. For me, yoga has evolved into more than that physical sense of well-being. For me, yoga is therapy. Yoga is the one place where I willingly let go of my phone and actually take offense when phones sound off in class. I have never found such a closely-knit group of positive minds, creative minds, and open souls than I have at Thrive. Many of my teachers have become very close friends. Over the last several weeks, attending classes has been difficult. Going through this heartache has been difficult. The unexpected outpouring of support I have received from Thrive is almost miraculous. People I had practiced next to without spoken word reached out to me and offered an ear to listen, and even friendships to be made. 
 I now bow my head and bring my hands into prayer for a different reason, one that fits me and my journey to inner-peace and self-love, closer than Catholocism ever brought me. Church was an obligation for me, and I attended because I had to. At first, yoga served that sense of obligation in my life, too, however, I began to grow towards yoga, which meant growing towards myself. My mat has become my sanctuary. My mat has become my church. And now, it is time to take my practice even further off the mat. 

Holding My Coffee A Little Closer Through The Seasons

Thursday, September 1, 2016

There is a shift in the air this morning. As raindrops trickle down to earth, the wetness on my skin no longer humidifies against the summer heat. It fades into a crisper temperature, the kind of weather that makes you want to curl up in an oversized sweater with your morning cup of coffee and linger a little longer in bed. Coffee that very well could be a Pumpkin Spice Latte in just a few short days. Although fall does not officially reintroduce itself until September 22nd, there is a definitive change in scenery today.

Volo Coffeehouse in Philadelphia
The transition from summer love to fall romance is a commonality known to many, usually referred to as ‘cuffing season.’ Ironically, at a time when relationships often reach higher levels of closeness and intimacy, some drift to the other end of the spectrum—they fall apart. You were beginning to look forward to fall, a favorite season of many. The fulfillment in that feeling of that first chill in the air when it’s not quite warm enough to wear your favorite floral sundress, but not cold enough for coats and mittens, either. The weather when you can glance over at your sweetheart and he’ll offer you his hoodie without a word or second thought. As you watch the leaves paint your daily scenery with a new sense of life and inspiration, your mind drifts from thoughts of slathering sunscreen on one another and sleeping under the stars to togetherness during the holidays: introducing him to your family at Thanksgiving, what ugly sweater you’ll wear to the annual Christmas party, curling up by the fire with a glass of champagne as you welcome the incoming year with a shared kiss.

 Fall is a time of definitive transition in both climates and hearts, but for those whose hearts are broken, it carries a bit more weight. Losing a lover during your favorite season causes you to bring increased awareness to that sudden chill in the air. There are none of his jackets draped over your shoulders, and the shared space in the IKEA bed you built together is now left empty, along with a dented pillow where he used to rest his head. The Sunday morning breakfast and coffee excursions you once made routine adventures become mundane meals which you have to relearn to enjoy in the company of your own mind. The spoon clinks against the bottom of your bowl as you finish the oatmeal that replaces his special chocolate chip breakfast pancakes he made just for you. The football games when your teams meet one another in match no longer ignite that sense of shared sexual tension and excitement, but now frustration as to the way you ended, enough of a reminder for you to switch the channel, or even turn off the television altogether. The changing leaves are no longer a sign of embarking on new adventures with your partner, but the realization of a reinvention, a deeper rooting of yourself as you begin to shed your own leaves. The realization that he is no longer intertwined with your roots and is off creating some of his own.    

By the time the trees are barren and winter’s first snow blankets what’s left of the crumpled colors, we are left feeling that fall was just a fantasy, a season that was not quite finished, just like the end of our summer romances. We lick our lips after the final sip of our cup of morning coffee by the fire, and peer into our empty mug that mirrors the blissful snow on Christmas morning. Although we have grown through the seasons, it is during these moments when we can’t help but drift back to the unfinished illusion of “us.”