How I Fell in Love With Yoga

It all started with a VHS and curiosity. I had no yoga mat, no skin-tight pants, no top with an inclusive bra and no clue what I was getting myself into. Though bizarre and different, there was nothing overtly magical happening as I followed the yoga sequence lead by two leotarded beautiful people on the screen of my console television. However, an undeniable spark was fluttering in my heart and I knew that I was doing something pretty special. I was sixteen.

It wasn’t until college that I became enamored with yoga and I can’t say that my love for it was anything more than the physical aspect at that time. By then I’d been through countless videos and books and had found my yoga hero, Bryan Kest. His Power Yoga series from the early nineties was the best workout I’d experienced outside of my karate training (another story altogether). It was wildly challenging in strength, endurance, balance and flexibility. In addition to that, he himself was quite sexy with his Kenny G locks and cut-off blue jeans, his message was humbling, calming and encouraging and the practioners on the video were mesmerizing. I always felt sensational afterwards, like I had just wandered back from an island adventure physcially spent yet more relaxed and at ease than ever.

At the time I was living in Birmingham, AL attending the University of Alabama at Birmingham for my Bachelors degree in Theatre. There weren’t any yoga studios or yoga classes in gyms like there are today. The only yoga there was in Birmingham was at The Golden Temple, a vegetarian restaurant and holistic market. The idea of practicing yoga there was very intimidating to me. I assumed I had to fall into the category of Unshaven Hippy to fit in there, which I now know to be an absurd assumption. (Later I would discover that Akasha Ellis was the teacher at Golden Temple, the same teacher who would, years down the road, certify me to teach yoga.) So it wasn’t until I had moved away to Chicago that I actually got out of the living room and into a real yoga studio.

Being in a class atmosphere was seismically different from practicing at home. I worked harder, was more focused and was inspired to get on a consistent schedule where I would practice two or three times a week. I was also able to connect with and be personally guided by a teacher, learn more and meet people who loved yoga as much as I did.

I loved the physical results of yoga. This practice can sculpt your body into a lean statuesque physique, make you feel invigorated, alive and lighter. It can touch every muscle and joint you have. Like any other type of workout, when my world got too busy or I was distracted by work, school, friends or new relationships it was difficult to get motivated. This is where things get dark.

I am genetically predisposed to depression. It is in my wiring, my veins, my bones. It is a monster I’ve dealt with since adolescence. When the cloud of depression engulfs me it is all encompassing. It feels as if I’m covered in molasses, sticky, dark, it’s difficult to get out of bed, it’s difficult to breathe, it’s difficult to move, it’s difficult to see anything but darkness. Despair whispers haunting melodies in my ear and convinces me that nothing I do, say or feel means anything. I see myself as an insignificant molecule in the endless ocean of the universe where I could disappear, fade to nothing and no one would notice.

I began to see a pattern. When I practiced yoga, the molasses wasn’t as thick, my cyclical depression was easier to cope with, the despair wasn’t as loud. Yet one week of missing yoga would undo it all. It took several cycles of neglecting my yoga practice, falling into molasses and dragging myself back to my yoga mat before it all finally sunk in: yoga was my anti-depressant.

Years went by, I moved back to Birmingham and stayed engaged in a regular practice. At least once a week I would go to class or at the very least get out my videos again. As time went by, the urge to know and understand yoga and why and how it worked became stronger and stronger. One day I got a very clear message (from my Self, from God, from Call-It-What-You-Like) that I was destined to teach yoga. It would have been nice if after having that insight, I could have immediately signed up for teacher training. I couldn’t. I had too much happening in my life and I was constantly dealing with a low back injury. I had micro-bulges in my L4, L5 and SI from an accident in Chicago. I was innocently crossing the street when out of nowhere BAM! a girl on bicycle crashed into me. BOOM! CRACK! SPLAT! Broken arm and injured spine. The arm healed in eight weeks, my spine ached for years.

In 2010, I had an epidural steroid injection to help with the pain. It did much more harm than good. I went to physical therapy. The exercises they gave me were yoga postures. I finally surrendered any control I had over my low back pain and committed to doing what I knew would heal me. Yoga.

Eventually, life settled down, my back was healthy enough and conditions were perfect for the undertaking of teacher training. So in Januray 2011, I enrolled in Birmingham Yoga’s two hundred hour training program. It was one of the best experiences in my life. I knew I was exactly where I was meant to be and throughout the course of my training my lumbar spine healed itself. I even attended a forty hour teacher training with my yoga hero, Bryan Kest.

Since then I’ve been fortunate enough to have several teaching opportunities and I feel I’m on my truth path, following my destiny of sharing the practice that continuously heals my depression and physically cured me of a spinal injury. I’ve met some incredible people on this path and whether those people have been teachers or students we are all pilgrims on the journey of life, trying to understand ourselves and find happiness.

I believe yoga is a road toward happiness, love and light. What started for me at sixteen as a curiosity has turned into the adventure of a lifetime. Yoga can be different things to different people. To me it has evolved from a purely physical practice into a great journey of self-discovery, healing, community and enlightenment. I’m grateful for all the pilgrims I’ve met along the way. Everyone brings something unique and beautiful, teaching me, always.

I hope to see you in class!

Shine On,

Lauren

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