Back to the Mat -- How Yoga Has Impacted My Journey

04/04/2013 01:37 pm ET | Updated Jun 04, 2013

I recently wrote an article in which I shared my weight loss journey, from both a physical standpoint. But it was when I decided to connect with myself on a deeper, emotional level, I found that ny relationship with myself had just as much to do with my process as did my relationship with food. And it was through yoga that I really began to find my way.

There is a popular quote by Rumi that says: "Out beyond wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I'll meet you there." And when it comes to yoga, for me it feels like "Out beyond wrongdoing and rightdoing there is my yoga mat. I'll meet myself there."

I first started yoga when I was 22. I was overweight (still around 230 pounds) and had just begun my journey to getting healthy. I was coming off of antidepressants and having lots of side effects, both physical and emotional. My doctor, who I was working with at the time, suggested I start taking yoga classes to help with some of the stress of the side effects, so I found a studio (at the time I was living in Santa Barbara) and went. It took about 10 different classes and three different studios before I felt a connection. And in hindsight, I realize now that it wasn't so much the relationship with yoga that was challenging for me in those beginning months, but the relationship with myself that surfaced as a result of practicing yoga. I had all of these visions of my third eye opening, and being able to stand on no feet and no hands for endless amounts of time, balancing only with the assistance of air and sheer willpower. But in all honesty, it wasn't like that for me. But I went, three times a week for close to two years because at the time, I didn't know what else to do.

A deeper part of me had such a desire to get to know myself and for some reason, that same part told me to keep going back, so I did. And it was so challenging for me to do the poses and stretch my body when I felt like there was just so MUCH of my body. I was bigger, so the poses were challenging -- but what was more challenging was how I was relating to myself, and the self-talk that was going on in my head. I compared myself to others, constantly allowing my eyes to drift around the other room and see one hot girl after another. I longed to be that girl, with the tight lululemon pants and the perfect down dog. I started really disliking myself and my body, and found myself disconnecting from myself, both on and off my yoga mat. And how that translated in my practice was that it no longer felt fulfilling. I stopped wanting to take the time to connect and reach inside. And so, I stopped going. I told myself I didn't need yoga -- or that precious time on my mat to connect with myself. For five years, I did not step foot into a yoga studio or look at my yoga mat, which had been tossed into the back of the storage closet.

That was almost six years ago.

This past August, something inside my said "go to yoga." So I did. And with the encouragement and support of my friend, who told me which studio might resonate with me -- I walked into my first yoga class in five years. I expected it to be hard. I expected myself to have the same experience I did years ago. I expected to walk out of the class disliking my body even more than when I walked in. I braced myself to face all of the various parts of myself that might come out. And I unrolled my very same purple yoga mat that was so thin and falling apart (I still use it!) -- and just let it all go.

That yoga class on that hot night in August was the most powerful, magical, joyful two hours I had had with myself in a long time. I sweat and I chanted (this was chanting yoga -- very healing for anyone brave enough to try it!) and I stretched my body in ways I had never felt myself move. I realized just how much different the poses felt, without an extra 80 pounds on me. I could actually FEEL things -- both physically and emotionally. I could feel my muscles stretching and my heart opening and my lungs filling and my voice singing. I could feel my rib cage expand as I took in a big breath and could feel everything in my body relax when I exhaled. I looked around me and thought to myself "wow, I look just like everyone else, at yoga, in my yoga pants, just letting it all go on my mat." And I cried in savashana and I cried in down dog and I cried in child's pose until there were visible tears on my mat. I sweat more than I ever had in my life and I felt a connection with a deep part of my soul that I had lost contact with all those years ago. I tol myself that my relationship with yoga had changed, which is why the class was such a "success" for me, but really what had happened, is that the relationship with myself had changed.

I have continued, since August, to go to yoga between two and three times every week. I missed one class in November when I was sick, but aside from that, I am there. Some people think I am weird or obsessed or "one of those crazy hippy yoga people." But the truth is, my desire to return to my mat however times a week has nothing to do with moving my body. It actually has nothing to do with the yoga or the sanskrit or the mala beads or Ganesha. All of those things help it be what it is and add to the magic, but the reason I go to my mat over and over again is so that I can be with that part of myself that I can only feel in the quiet of my own 6x3 piece of material. Some nights, I get to yoga 25 minutes early just so I can unroll my mat (oh yes, it is absolutely falling apart by now!), lay down on my back with my hand on my heart -- and connect with myself. And on the nights or mornings where I wake up and feel grouchy or tired or sick and find myself not wanting to go, I go anyway. And not because it burns calories or because I get in a good workout, but because it's a sanctuary that I have created where I can connect with myself without the distractions of anything. It is the one place I will not allow my cell phone. It's the one place I don't gossip or complain or judge others, including myself. It's the one place where I can fall flat on my face 75 times in one pose -- and not care what others think and not judge myself for not "being better." Sure, there are times where I feel intimidated by other people's poses or bodies or spirituality, but I don't allow it to take away from my experience of connecting with myself.

Yoga teaches me to go in to a place where I can fully let go. There is no right or wrong on my yoga mat, nor is there any agenda. I can go into a class and spend the entire time laying on my back if I want to. And a few times, I have. But it's the WAY I am relating to myself when I am in the poses (or just hanging out in child's pose for half a class) that hits me so deeply. It's a place where I can love myself any which way. I can love myself in Warrior I or Warrior II or especially in Warrior III where I usually lose my balance. I can love myself in crescent (anyone familiar with crescent knows how challenging this pose can be!) and in a standing split, and even in plank. I can just love all the parts of myself that make me who I am -- and I can do it all on my sacred purple yoga mat.

So why do I keep coming back to my mat? Why do I prefer yoga to social events? Why do I wake up early on Sundays just to get to class? Why did I bike 4.5 miles wach way just to get to class a few weeks ago when the LA marathon was happening and the streets were closed? It has nothing to do with the instructor (he is pretty awesome though), or the people (they too are pretty awesome) or even the sweating (the second best part!) -- but instead it has to do with me. I am committed to myself. I am committed to feeling, loving, being, expressing, holding, supporting, encouraging, and living WITH and IN myself. Sometimes when I do say no to yoga, it feels like I'm saying no to myself. I go because my body and mind ask me to honor my relationship with my soul -- and yoga, for me, is the place where my soul comes out to play and teaches me so much about who I am. Maybe it's my wobbly legs in crescent or the way I always want to cry when I am in dolphin -- but all of these things give me so much insight to myself and my being.

I have learned so much about myself on that yoga mat, and on nights like tonight where I come home all sweaty and wide open, I am reminded that my relationship with myself is the most important thing in my life. I saw a license plate holder today that said "Pray & Serve." And that is exactly what my experience is like in yoga because I am praying and celebrating myself so that I can have the energy to serve others and live fully in my purpose. And yoga is what helps bring my world in just a little bit tighter and closer to my heart so that I can feel deep enough into myself to close my eyes, and pray, and thank myself for just being.