July 6, 2009

Rediscovering Enlightenment

Let me make this clear: I am a yogi before I am a runner. Long before all of this crazy distance running business, I had a deeply personal relationship with my yoga mat. I will always be a yogi first and foremost. It's my thing.

I found yoga (or more accurately, it found me) a little over 5 years ago, when the stress of a grueling job began to manifest itself physically. It registered in my upper shoulders, with pinched nerves. It travelled down my right arm and wrist in waves of numbness and tingling. It took up residence in my lower back, with an ache that steadily worsened as my work days grew longer and more demanding. The day I started having chest pains, I knew I had to make some serious changes or risk suffering a nervous breakdown.

I lived in a tiny studio apartment in Venice Beach that was about the size of a walk-in closet. My neighbor down the hall, sensing my desperation, casually mentioned a yoga studio 2 blocks away that had half-price classes on Saturday afternoons. I knew the place. I'd walked past it several times before, but never got up the nerve to go inside. What could it hurt, I thought. I headed over there one day to see what it was all about.

I had no idea I'd feel so at home in that calm, airy space. The quiet energy forced my mind to be still. I flowed through asanas, opening up all the tight spots in my body. I unleashed all that negative energy and allowed myself to be present in the moment. I gained strength, flexibility, focus, and acute self-awareness. It was absolutely the thing I needed to gain clarity and take control of my life. I eventually changed jobs, but my practice always remained. I returned dutifully every week, sometimes twice a week. I was hooked.

It's been a year since I moved to Portland, and I still haven't found a yoga studio that I've connected with on that level. The week before flying to LA to see family, I frantically checked the class schedule for my long lost yoga studio, mentally carving out time to make the journey back to Venice. It was just like old times: making a much-deserved appointment with myself to find my center and reconnect.

The space hadn't changed much since I left. Same half-price classes in the afternoon, same core group of talented instructors. I took a Level 1/2 class, since I was a bit rusty. With my rented mat tucked under my arm, I crept into the large, open Sun room. I settled down on my back, breathing deeply, and briefly glanced up at the open ceiling above me. Same faceted teardrop crystal dangling from the exposed metal pipes, tied in place with a red ribbon. Good Feng Shui. Just knowing it was still there, hanging in the same spot, gave me a sense of reassurance.

The instructor greeted the class warmly. "You can always tell how your practice is going," he began, "by what kind of person you are when you're on a family vacation." It was uncanny how he practically read my mind. "I think I stay enlightened for about...two days, tops." Everyone giggled knowingly.

He went on to say that nurturing relationships with family is important because you've known each other your whole lives. You have deep karmic ties with family. They know you best, you know them best.

"The deepest ravines of karma, that need to be cleaned out occasionally," he said.

We all closed our eyes and brought our palms to our hearts' center. Inhale. Exhale.


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