Yoga is a strange art. Strangers sharing a communal space, yet finding privacy in the four corners of our yoga mats. Some hate it with a burning passion, others get a rush from it. There is no in between. I fall into the latter category. Instead of trying to come up with reasons of why all the yoga haters out there should give it a second chance, it’s probably more interesting to tell a love story (fitting, since Valentine’s Day just passed). This is the love story of me and yoga.
My relationship with yoga first started in high school. A combination of stresses led me to develop an extremely unhealthy relationship with my physical body and my mind. I went to a performing arts high school in New York City, where I was trapped in a cinder block building for 12 hours at a time due to long rehearsal schedules and performance classes that extended our academic school day. I would commute on the subway in the morning at very early hours and back home late at night, getting little to no hours of daylight.
Being a professional performer, it is easy to fall into a cycle of self-loathing and self-hate, as we are constantly being judged and hired for our looks and talents. As a woman of color in the performing industry, I faced unique challenges in the performing world. I began to scrutinize my body, the way that my curves looked in a tight leotard, the fact that my singing voice sounded “princess-ey” and “white,” further limiting the roles I would be able to be cast in. I developed a disconnect with my body, choosing to ignore my curves and tan skin and detach my mind from my body in hopes that I would feel more content. Of course, this was not the case. I ended up developing a very hateful relationship with myself. I let the voices of those who put me down merge into my own voice, and I felt lost as to how to find my own voice again.
Junior year of high school, I opted to take yoga as my gym credit. I heard it was easy, and that we even got to sleep once a week during class! I did not expect to be impacted in the way I was. Yoga gave me the gift of breath. Even though breath is a crucial part of singing, I did not realize the importance of breath in everyday life, calming my anxieties and connecting my mind to my body. It was the key to a healthier attitude and a healthier mind. By using breath to move through postures, I was able to better connect with my body. I became more aware of the subtleties of my body movements, which improved my dance and performance technique. My body was no longer a foreign object to me. It became familiar, and I grew to be more comfortable in my own skin. I began taking ownership of my body, listening to it and nurturing it by making sure I eat healthy foods, even though it was easier to just order a plate of greasy fries to rehearsal. I became a happier person, and I was eager to explore my body and mind further.
Meditation is also a crucial part of my yoga practice, as my mind flies at 100 miles per hour at any given moment of the day. Without meditation, I am not sure I would have left high school with mental composure. I used meditation before going on stage, before taking an exam, even on the subway to reduce my anxiety. It helped me recognize my body’s signs when my anxiety is about to take hold and allowed me to deal with it in a calm and relaxed manner.
Lying in Savasana at the end of every yoga practice, drenched in my own sweat, I feel like I belong inside my own body. It is so easy to lose that feeling, to let one’s mind drift into a state where you forget about your physical body, or, in my case, ignore your physical body in order to blend into your surroundings and forget the perceptions that come along with it. Being a Latina in Ann Arbor, my curves, tan skin and wild curly hair are physical and apparent markers of my differences from most of the population. It is so easy to fall back into that cycle of self-loathing, but my yoga practice is always there to ground me and show me how to love and embrace those features that make me different. It’s one of the healthiest relationships that I have ever had.
So, to all of the yoga haters out there, I say give it another try. This time, drop all the preconceived notions of what yoga is supposed to be, and make what you want of it. Maybe you will also find light and happiness in a room full of strangers, moving with communal energy on the four corners of your mat.