Choosing Me: Yoga and TransformationJuly 24, 2020
When I moved to Denver with my then-husband, I was lonely. My marriage had begun to break down, bare threads exposing seams of discontent. I was a person who stuffed down feelings and refused to acknowledge my needs. My husband was a person whose feelings and needs I took on, and who sought stability above all.
I kept passing by a sign for Mudra Yoga Studio affixed to the side of a brick building on a tiny street teeming with restaurants and bars. The pink and white lotus was simple, almost ordinary, and yet kept commanding my attention. My only experience with yoga up until that point was following a DVD where a thin white woman said on repeat, “hands overhead, slight backbend.” The stretching was good, but it was simply another physical practice.
My first teacher said I was lucky. I had “beginners mind.” That very first class, breathing with movement in a completely new way, I reconnected to something that felt familiar and foreign. I was worshipping Spirit with my body and breath. A peace that I’d only previously suspected lived inside of me surfaced, temporarily relieving me of my constant anxiety.
Those first moments of peace are tricky. Some continue to seek only that part of yoga, and never get to its more in-depth teachings, noticing everything, shadow and light inside, and working with what is showing up in its entirety. There are those who get stuck in spiritual bypassing by seeking only the initial high.
Falling in love with the practice beyond only its ease and with the effort it demands for balance requires a pearl of luck. Yes, I was lucky: I not only had that beginner’s mind, but incredible teachers that owned the studio. The teachers they attracted held to their ideals. Yoga was a practice of discovery, of holding it all. And I needed to be held.
Crying was allowed in class. Jumping forward a year, I’d recently moved into an apartment, out of the house with my husband. It was my first time living alone. My heart was a pulsing, raw thing, and my chest ached constantly. In class, when I breathed into it in stillness and movement, it would pour out of my eyes.
At the end of one such class, the teacher, a lovely woman with warm brown eyes who joked about yogi confessions (yogis drink coffee! yogis have road rage!), gave me a hug and placed something into my palms. The smooth, cool beads pressed into my skin; a rose quartz and agate mala.
“Something told me to give this to you. Hang on to it as long as you need,” she said. “And it’s okay if it breaks. It’s done a lot of work for me already, and is hanging on by a thread.”
Indeed, there were a few places where the string connecting the knots between the beads had grown thin. For the next few nights, I clutched it in my hand like a lost love. I slept with it under my pillow. First good night’s sleep in some time.
Choices were allowed. Encouraged. The first reminder at the beginning of each class: I am here to lead you through a practice, but first and foremost, it is your practice.
Tree pose has infinite variations to those with imagination. All are equal and encouraged. Choose the one that is best for your body today. The foot can be kick-standed on the floor, on the calf, or at the thigh. Hands up, mudras, sway. Hold on to the wall or a chair if it feels good. To simply be given choices in a class, based on my own inner state, meant I had choices in my life. Choices worth exploring.
During the first year of living alone, I completed my studio’s 200-hour teacher training. I was cradled in community by the women in my class. I learned to tap into energetics that felt like re-learning an instinct I’d had my whole life.
People ultimately asked: why did you get divorced? The short answer is that I want to evolve for the rest of my life and push my boundaries. My ex wanted to stay as steady as possible, resisting change. It would have required me to fold into myself to keep him comfortable.
Yoga gave me connection to myself, a means to move through grief, to intuit a situation, evaluate choices, and ultimately allowed me to choose myself. Today, I stand in my power due to yoga.
Maria Gabriela Guevara is a Venezuelan-American writer. She is a graduate of The Book Project at Lighthouse Writers Workshop, where she remains active in the writers’ community. Her debut fiction publication, the short story Passport, is now available in Michigan Quarterly Review. She is currently working on a collection of short stories and a screenplay. She is a pain management pharmacist and has several publications in medical journals, including JAMA Network Open. She lives in Denver and loves to hike, bike, sit in the sunshine, and practice yoga.