Yoga—A Love Story: My Perfectly Imperfect Relationship with Yoga
The Love Affair
My love affair with yoga was by no means an instant attraction. There were no passionate late nights curled up together in front of an open fireplace, no sinking in the pit of my stomach when we were separated for more than a few hours. It was much more of a slow burn, a gentle attraction, meeting of eyes across a room with a shy smile and teenage-style flirting.
Slowly, days melted into weeks, and weeks into years, and my relationship with yoga developed into something beautiful – a soulful practice that would last me a lifetime.
Let me explain. I first tried yoga when I was fifteen. My high school was offering free after-school classes to stressed-out students. It was in a small, stuffy classroom in Sydney, Australia, when I first rolled out a mat and donned your basic shorts and t-shirt (yoga wear was pretty simple back then!).
In between the stacked desks and chairs, our teacher calmly plied us into weird and wonderful shapes. We started with some Sun Salutations and then moved through some static poses, breaking the poses down anatomically. At first, I found the poses almost contradictory. How can you point my hips to the sky and my heels to the ground at the same time? I felt like the instructor must have made a mistake or two with her cues, but plodded along, enjoying the postures, all the while wondering how she could be so confused with her descriptions.
It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy it, the sensations of the poses were nice. It felt good to open my chest that had been hunched over my computer finishing late night assignments. But I certainly did not find myself loving every second of it and smiling through every flow.
However, I will never forget that first Shavasana. Something as simple as lying on a mat, with my eyes closed, being taken on a gentle guided relaxation was so incredible to me, and, as my body was a little more open than it had been at the start of class, there was more space to melt into.
So I showed up the next week. And the next, and the next. It wasn’t the poses I loved necessarily, nor the meditation at the end, but the combination. I tried the guided relaxation by myself at home one evening and it was nice, but it wasn’t the same. It was something about the combination of moving, stretching, breathing and relaxing that was magic—a perfect elixir to help me unwind. I came back week after week, until two years had passed.
After high school graduation, I forgot about this perfect, foolproof relaxation recipe for years, sinking into a life of a university student, working at a bar, partying, and enjoying life.
They say that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. At the age of 22, I guess I was ready to receive yoga more fully into my life. I was on an early morning train home after a big night out with friends, dancing and drinking, and I found myself chatting to a woman sitting near me on the train named Sarah. She was brimming with life, had glowing skin and a smile that reached from ear to ear. She told me that she was a yoga teacher and was on her way to teach an early morning class at the local sports club.
When I asked her who she had convinced to give up their morning sleep-ins in favor of yoga, she replied, “It’s for all ages. I have teenagers, middle-aged men, new moms, and elderly retirees in the class. We move together and laugh and enjoy the practice. It’s the best thing ever, I wouldn’t change it for all the sleep-ins and pancake breakfasts in the world.”
Instantly, my mind flipped back to those afternoon yoga classes at school and that blissful feeling of lying on my yoga mat in Shavasana at the end of class. So, I got her details, went home, and spent the day sleeping and nursing a hangover, thinking that maybe she had a point.
The next week, I showed up at the sports club, paid my $10 and waved at Sarah through blurry eyes at the start of class. The practice was beautiful. We breathed deeply, flowing through poses, some that were challenging and some that were relaxing, right up until the end, when I found myself again in that magical elixir that is Shavasana.
This time, I was hooked. This time, there was passion.
And so I kept going, week in and week out, floating from yoga studio to studio. I moved around a lot through my twenties, living all over Sydney, and traveling the world. I didn’t always have a consistent practice, but the practice was always with me. When I was in yoga classes, I felt a peaceful comfort with the practice. Yoga and I, it seemed, were getting serious.
After a few years of full-time work, regular yoga practice and wine-soaked dinners with friends, I began to crave something more. I had never really been spiritual, but I started to feel drawn to something deeper, a deeper connection with life, rather than just the usual 9-to-5 with fun weekends that was the majority of my mid-twenties. I was now going to yoga most days of the week and felt that the after-class glow of calm serenity was something I needed more of in my life.
So, I began to research yoga teacher training (YTT) courses. I decided on a yoga teacher training course in India (the source of yoga, as well as the most affordable courses), paid my deposit and reserved my place.
At my teacher training, I developed my yoga practice, strengthened my body, and, more than anything, learned how to be present. I found peace within and being comfortable in the present moment, whether that was through Pranayama breathing, in Asana practice focusing on moving my body, or in evening meditation, just sitting with the peace and quiet. I started to find myself change and shift my perspective to be more comfortable in the moment, rather than letting my thoughts go at a thousand miles per hour.
And I fell in love with yoga practice. While, before, yoga and I had been dating, off and on, for years and started getting more and more serious. In India, we fell in love. And it was no longer a few meetings a week, where we would spend time together, enjoying each other’s company and feeling the warm glow afterwards. It was now love. That deep, serious, “I want to spend my life with you because you make me a better person” kind of love. This time, I didn’t want to see yoga a few times a week, I wanted to wake up to yoga every day of my life.
And since then, I have.
But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing.
My Yogini Lifestyle — Imperfectly Perfect
Since I committed myself deeply to a life with yoga, our life together has ebbed and flowed. Like any long-term, committed relationship, there have been good times and times where it was a little more work. At the beginning, I wanted my life with yoga to be perfect. I wanted to be the perfect, dedicated yogini. But, it turns out life had other plans. There were mornings where I was too tired to be up at 5am, to cleanse, meditate and do a full ninety minutes of practice before work. There were nights when I had to choose between quiet meditation and having dinner with friends (guess which I chose?). Yoga and I had to learn to compromise, work on it, until we found our groove together once again.
My relationship with yoga is imperfectly perfect. I have accepted that I am not, and never will be, the perfect yogini. I am deeply flawed. I have found a way to adapt, twist and, even at times, ignore some of the limbs of yoga, in order to make it work for me.
According to the Patanjali tradition, the eight limbs that make up yoga are:
So how do these fit into my life? To me, a yogic lifestyle is one that you make fit into your life, rather than changing your entire life to be the perfect yogi. Sometimes, that means not following all the the limbs all of the time. But that’s how love works right? We compromise.
I follow the Yamas in a way that suits my lifestyle. I am not a strict vegetarian, I love cheese and fish tacos. I try to tell the truth, but sometimes a little white lie is necessary (“Sorry, I don’t think I can make it out tonight, I haven’t been feeling well,” when I really mean. “It’s freezing and I had a big week, and I’m already in my pajamas at 6pm”). I try to not be greedy, or do things in excess, but sometimes red wine tastes too good and I really need two of the yoga leggings that are on sale.
Same with the Niyamas. I interpret them in a way that suits me. It’s imperfect and flawed and real, but it works. It’s how yoga and I make our life together. I find my devotion through teaching yoga, by studying the poses and Pranayama, through planning and teaching classes and bringing together a community of people to share and enjoy yoga. In teaching yoga, I feel like I am devoting myself to the practice, my own form of devotion.
The Asana and Pranayama are a part of my physical practice, both officially, when I roll out my mat and focus on my breathing and body and non-officially, when I close my eyes and slow my breathing at stressful moments in my day, or take five minutes while working at my desk to mindfully stretch my arms and open my chest. And, just like I did when I was fifteen, I still live for that magic relaxation that comes after practice, lying on my mat and letting that sweet meditation take hold.
And for me, I feel like all of these things are helping me, slowly, work towards the other limbs, which are limbs that many people never reach, even after a full lifetime of devoted practice. So I focus on what works for me. Am I still working on my relationship with yoga? Absolutely. And it’s a lifetime practice, not a lifetime perfect.
My Advice to Anyone Looking for Love
Here’s a little tip from me to you. Yoga and I are not monogamous. You, too, can be in love with yoga and can shape your relationship to suit your lifestyle. Love the Asana, but find the Pranayama more difficult? Fine, it will be there if you want to try it later (or not). You’re a dedicated vegan but find the self-study element difficult? Not a problem. Maybe self-study isn’t right for you right now. You can be a flawed yogini and still reap many benefits from the ancient and beautiful practice. Trust me, I am the proof.
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Stephanie Johnson, CYI, Yogini Soul Staff Writer, is an elementary school teacher, yoga teacher, meditation student and writer. She is looking for ways to explore this beautiful, crazy life that we have been gifted and to live it with meaning. Stephanie fell in love with yoga as a teenager and has since traveled across the globe in search of gaining knowledge and experiences to deepen her understanding of yoga, from her home country of Australia, to India and across Asia, to Chile, in South America, where she now lives with her partner and two sons. Connect with her on Instagram.