Pema Chodron writes, “To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest.” We awaken gradually. And thank Goodness we do not awaken to everything all at once because it would be too overwhelming. If you’d told me twelve years ago of all the changes yoga would accompany me through, I might have thought twice about stepping on a mat.
When I began practicing yoga, I was in an abusive marriage that was not working. Meanwhile, I was working as a cocktail waitress at a bar. I drank sauvignon blanc regularly for breakfast and vodka for dinner. I smoked a cigarette before class and another one immediately after. I was a senior in college, taking 21 hours to complete my degree in education. Panic attacks brought me to my knees most days.
These were the muddled circumstances under which yoga slowly and quickly transformed me and my life. That was 2004. I left that marriage in 2008. I went to yoga teacher training in 2011. I got sober – for what I hope is the final time – in 2013.
I had access to yoga through the campus recreation center and the two yoga studios on my side of town. I had health insurance (it was the psychiatrist who recommended yoga to me). I had enough cash in my pocket for the $20 drop-in.
But, what if I hadn’t had access?
I shudder to think.
What might have happened?
Where would I be?
Yoga threw me a life vest when I was content to sink. I was hooked instantly. I knew the first time I rolled up a borrowed mat that I couldn’t wait to do that again. I felt alive. Each class armed me with more strength and hope. I kept coming back until I wanted to live, even when I wasn’t on my mat.
As a teacher, I strive to pay forward the gifts that yoga’s given me. Through giving, we receive. And, in addition to the physical strength, emotional healing, and spiritual experiences that yoga has given me, yoga has also afforded me a career and life beyond my wildest dreams.
Last year I attended Off the Mat, Into the World Leadership Training, and an ethically charged debate arose about yoga pants. One woman who was there on scholarship began to cry and then vehemently explained, “I don’t care what pants you wear…they’re cute and all, but I’m just trying to put food on the table to feed my kids.”
I’ll never forget her face. Her solitary pain. Our collective shame.
I’ve been in conflict since that defining moment. I believe that a yogi is a person who uses everything that’s happened to him or her. No experience – no matter how challenging – is cast out. Yoga brings unity to it all.
But, over the past year, I’ve not been able to integrate these experiences:
I wave at the folks leaving the men’s shelter down the street and drive 3 miles to a beautiful studio and see people who look mostly like me.
I see a man digging through my dumpster ten minutes before someone at work asks me if I’m doing the latest diet or cleanse.
A battered woman in withdrawals from my same disease asks me for spare change to feed her kid breakfast, and I throw down $100 for a farm to table meal I wasn’t so hungry for to begin with.
My spouse tells me about a kid who came to school dirty again and I keep encouraging our cleaning lady to eliminate the toxic chemicals in our household.
I can’t come to yoga until I get the right clothes, she says. What brand of yoga pants are those? another asks me.
I see a person of color killed by a police officer. I see a police officer killed by a person who served our country in the military.
These polarized dichotomies left me feeling confused and powerless. I’ve felt compelled to do more. I believe in the power of love and light, I do. I believe prayer is healing. But, I also believe in action. I’ve been inspired to see the work that various individuals are doing throughout the community and thought that together we could do more. I reached out to 2-3 yoga teachers from each studio in Fort Worth and a couple surrounding cities. Through these texts, emails, and Facebook messages, I discovered there were others who felt as I did. We are never alone, you know? Through these conversations, Whole Heart Yoga Fort Worth, or WHY FW, was formed. It is best described as a collaboration among local yoga teachers and students, who’ve formed to promote peace to our greater Fort Worth community through education around mindfulness, yoga fundraising events, and widespread outreach.
Our kickoff event is a FREE pop up yoga and meditation practice for peace at Burnett Park on Friday, August 5th at 7:30 pm. And we have a partnership in the works with The Leg Up Program, a nonprofit dedicated to ending homelessness by providing caring support, education, employment and innovative programs designed to empower individuals to achieve self-sufficiency. We’ll have a special class at their building on September 17th where the proceeds will benefit their clients in living independently.
To stay informed about all upcoming events, follow on social media.
Instagram : @whyfw
I’ve practiced yoga long enough now that I no longer believe it could singlehandedly save the world. But, I am living proof of the impact yoga can have on a single life. Through organizing this effort, I no longer feel powerless. When I lay my head down at night, I want to know that I’m doing all that I can each day to help others. This, I believe, is why we are here. This is the yoga.