I don’t know if I discovered yoga or if yoga discovered me. I was 15 when I attended my first class. Thirty seven years later, it’s still a part of my life.
I remember that first class well. My friend and I snickered at the old ladies in the room, but we both secretly really enjoyed and benefited from it. We wouldn’t admit that to each other, though. We were too cool.
As is the case with most things, life got in the way, and I stopped practicing yoga after that initial session. Had I known then what I know now, I could have lived with less mental anguish throughout my teens, 20s and 30s by practicing yoga regularly. To have had the same wisdom and experience I have now, coupled with the youthfulness and bright future I had back then, would have been ideal for navigating happily through the growing-up years. But things just don’t roll that way, and we have to live with the tools and experience we have at hand.
This is what my now-wise self would have told my then anguished self: You are OK Joanne. Be still, stop running and come home. “Coming home” is a concept important to me. It means coming home (or back) to my authentic self – the self devoid of ego.
Whenever I step on the mat, close my eyes and focus inward, I start the process of letting go, and the process of coming home to myself. I begin to let go of expectations, “should” and negative self-talk, all of which are driven and orchestrated by the ego. When ego dictates my life, I feel separate and apart from others. I may resent others accomplishments, feel envious of their possessions or maybe feel competitive and want to win something over them – a race, a job, a prize, a boyfriend. This is living based on ego. It is not living from the heart.
Living from the heart is what and who we really are as humans. It’s about fully experiencing life without doubt, fears and insecurities and allowing ourselves to live life and make decisions based from our hearts. It’s not to be confused with making emotional decisions which, by their nature can be rash and extreme. Rather, living from the heart is a conscious effort to filter out the interference from the negative self-chatter, which we can convince ourselves is logical decision making.
Living from the heart allows for interconnectedness with others. Our hearts are reflected in each other. Ego is a feeling of having a wall between you and others. There is no wall. You belong to me and I belong to you. We accept each other.
Self-righteous advancement is a struggle a lot of us know well. Through years of fine-tuning my logical mind, my modus operandi became to ‘self-righteously’ bulldoze my way through life, through post-secondary education and on into my career, all the while harboring a deep feeling that I was smarter than the average person.
I worked in the corporate IT world. It was rife with like-minded righteousness. I don’t want to paint it with a broad negative brush because there were lots of laughs and fun times and witticisms met with witticisms. We were bright minds with the world at our feet, or so we thought. So I thought.
Along with my self-righteous attitude, thinking I was intellectually above most, I was terrified I was a failure. I feared people would see through me and realize I was inadequate and a phony. I harbored these feelings despite my proven accomplishments. I was haunted by the insecurities and anxieties.
The years of high pressure from the job, divorce, single parenting and negative self-talk cumulatively led to a breakdown of sorts. When I was on the verge of taking stress leave, I was fortuitously laid off. I found respite in a few weeks of unemployment. Then, despite my perceived intellectual handicap, I landed several lucrative contracts. After all the experience I had gained, I hoped I would finally be confident in these new roles. Instead, the same old fears and stressors were back.
I finally got the kick in the pants I needed and got off the crazy train. The kick came in the form of a flat employment market and no job offers. None. This was a first for me; I had been in the workforce since I was 14 years old.
Somewhere between the layoff and the dearth of job offers, I stumbled across an oasis in the form of a little yoga studio in a young woman’s home. She had invited the community into her home for a satsang, which is a neighborly get-together to celebrate joyful living. This resonated with me. I had recently returned from a six-week “check-your-ego-at-the-door” ashram east of Montreal. Satsangs were a daily celebration there. I felt fortunate to find like-minded individuals living in my home town, of all places.
That get-together was the catalyst for my return to yoga. That, along with a number of other soul-searching endeavors culminated in a new-found respect and connection with yoga.
That was three years ago. The yoga studio moved out of a house and into a downtown location. True to my somewhat excessive personality, I became a daily (sometimes twice a day) attendee. The teacher had a gift for teaching. She embodied yoga and was an example of how one can live life in a balanced fashion – integrating mind, spirit and body. It was through her calm, heartfelt asanas and meditation that I was able to begin to connect with my innermost self.
Yoga became an integral part of my being. My practice touched areas in my psyche that mental health professionals couldn’t come close to. I think the emphasis placed on bringing the attention inward went miles towards calming my chattering mind.
What yoga has done for me throughout the past three years is this: by stepping onto the mat, I am able to mindfully face most internal challenges and hurdles before they become insurmountable, and I’ve realized that there really isn’t anything that is insurmountable.
Another skill I’ve gained is being able to refrain from spontaneously reacting to people holding differing opinions. I’ve been able to institute a thoughtful delay in my responses. The end result is a more mindful, compassionate response rather than the quick rebuttal that first comes to mind. My yoga practice has chipped away at this chunk of superiority, and I feel I have become a more patient and compassionate person.
While I was attending classes at the yoga studio, I saw there was opportunity to become a yoga teacher. I just couldn’t take that step. I couldn’t figure out what it was blocking me from daring to pursue something I loved to do. I had teaching experience and I loved to do yoga. It was a perfect combination. What was missing was the fact I had allowed my negative thinking mind to take over all decision-making. Every so often, I’d dream about being a teacher, and then I’d push it out of my mind.
About a year ago, my yoga teacher announced she was moving. I realized I was going to have to live with the regret of not pursuing the teacher training, and I was left out-of-sorts, having to find another studio in which to practice and hoping to find another teacher with whom I might share a connection. Providence then stepped in and my original teacher offered to work with me to help me attain my teacher training.
Fast forward just a few months, and I sit here as an official 200+ registered yoga teacher. It’s been quite a journey and the road for me is still bumpy, but I’m stumbling along.