Revisited: why I will do yoga until the day I die

On Friday, I graduated from Kripalu Center for Yoga and Heath – I am now a certified yoga teacher. 

I’d like to pay my respects to how it all started…

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Standing Bow in Cape Town

I will do yoga until the day I die. Yeah, I know. That’s a big statement. Especially for me.

I can have some bandwagon tendencies. I jump on and ride along for about six months until a more interesting wagon rolls on by. For a while, thought I needed to buy a potter’s wheel, I looked for apartments to rent in South Africa and went through a phase where thought I really needed to be able to read hieroglyphs.

This is different. Yoga is a keeper. This is a lifelong practice for me and if I ever stop doing it, someone needs to kick my ass back on to the mat because I’ve temporarily lost my mind.

Yoga taught me how to manage my panic attacks and anxiety, it has lessened my depression and made me a much happier person. It’s made my marriage stronger and has given me the supportive community that I’ve always wanted.

And then there is the physical stuff.

When I was 11 years old, I broke my back. I was working on a film called Rambling Rose, and in a freak accident in the school room, I crushed three vertebrae between my shoulder blades and I got whiplash in my lower back. It’s not even an interesting story, I pushed myself back to get out of a chair, the wheels got caught, I fell backward, hit the wall and snapped forward. I’d really rather tell you I was saving kittens from a burning building, but I like you – I don’t want to lie.

After five days in the hospital, they put me in a metal brace and drugged me up on codeine so I could finish the film. Then, I went home to recover and had to use a wheelchair if I needed to walk further than a few steps. (If you want to hear more, and the reason opiates and gorilla costumes don’t mix, all that is in my book.)

In time I healed, but some issues remained. I had nerve damage and lingering pain. My left foot would drag when I got tired and the lightest touch to my lower back would cause spasms to shoot down my legs. I was generally stiff and sore, I couldn’t get anywhere near touching my toes. But, I just accepted pain was part of my life; I was grateful I could walk. My back pain was manageable. It was mostly fine.

Then, at the age of 30, I walked into a hot yoga studio. Thanks to my anxiety, I had spent an entire therapy session devoted to discussing whether or not I could survive a yoga class. I felt panicked about the people, the heat, the physical postures I knew I couldn’t do. But I got myself in the front door and found a whole community of men and women with open arms – ready to welcome my messed up body and chaotic mind. They all had jacked up bodies and minds when they started, too.

Everything changed.

I started to get flexible. 20 years of back pain melted away. And with it, a whole lot of emotional pain dissolved, too. It wasn’t instant. It took time. But it became clear that yoga was making me stronger – mentally, physically and spiritually. Yoga gave me back my spine, in more ways than one.

I was ready for a life with a “bad back.” I was prepared for the constant ache and various restrictions. One of those things I shouldn’t be able to do is this:

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But here I am anyway.

It changed my normal. It changed what I could expect from life.

Yoga is not about being flexible or having cute yoga pants or chanting in some language you don’t understand. It’s about learning to get distance from the incessant chatter of that inner critic jerk who wants to ruin everything. It’s about the courage it takes to be willing to show up, just as you are, and have that be good enough.

Some days who I am is a person who is overwhelmed by the world and needs to spend most of the class in tears, lying on my mat. And that’s good enough, too. Yoga is where we learn to let go of what is no longer serving us and sometimes that process is emotional. Having a melt down in class is pretty much a  rite of passage. Everyone else is dealing with their own stuff so no one really notices, but it’s still nice that tears look a whole lot like sweat.

Yoga is not about being “good”  – it doesn’t matter that I still have a hard time getting my forehead to my knee in Dandayamana Janushirasana after seven years of solid practice. I’ll probably get there eventually. I’ll still be doing this when I’m 84; seven years is nothing.

I don’t take compliments well. I shrug them off and explain them away, inadvertently flinging a kindness back in the face of the person saying it.  But when someone praises my backbend, I do my best to fight that habit and simply say thank you. Because it’s the purest and most genuine way I know to express gratitude – to my spine, to this practice, and to this life.

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If you are interested in yoga and have any questions, please ask in the comments! I always recommend going to a class because teachers can help you with proper alignment and any modifications you might need. At the studio where I practice, we have men and women of all ages and body types – new people are always welcome! 

If going to a studio is not feasible for you – check out Yoga with Adriene. She has free YouTube videos that are fantastic for all levels. 

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22 thoughts on “Revisited: why I will do yoga until the day I die

  1. I’ve been wanting to do yoga for a few years now but the pregnancy of my two young one kept me from joining a class. Now my youngest baby is 6 months and I feel I am fully recovered from my cesarian. A friend of mine keeps inviting me to join the class she attends telling me it is an amazing experience physically, emotionally and mentally. So what’s holding me up now….me. I have so many things on my plate right now with three kids, a home, a husband, errands, etc. I don’t have time for me cause by the end of the day all I want to do is sleep, yet I feel yoga would do me a world of good. Time management is what it’s all about! :/

    • I totally get it – it’s hard to balance everything.
      I saw a meme the other day that I loved. “Yoga doesn’t take time. It gives time.” And although there are definitely logistics to figure out, I feel that yoga improves the quality of the everything else.
      If you want to get started at home, check out the free YouTube videos I recommend. That’s at least a little easier than getting to a studio! (And if you can just do 15 minutes a couple of times a week – that’s awesome!)
      Best wishes to you – let me know how it all goes for you!

  2. I’ve been to a few yoga classes over the last few years. Enough to know that it is something I want to make a regular part of my life. It’s one of those things on my list … some day. Soon. When I retire in a couple of years. It needs to move up higher on the list. Now. Today.

    I’m a firm believer in the peaceful nature of it and in the benefits it brings to body, mind and soul.

    Now.

    Today.

  3. I’m glad it is working so well for your anxiety. I do yoga about once a week, but I’d like to be more consistent and practice on my own at home. Thanks for the inspiration

  4. I love this ❤ I'm just a random internet lurker, but your posts always make me feel less alone in the world. I'm so glad you've found something that brings you such sincere relief! It's really helpful that you specifically mentioned breaking down in class lol. I've benefited from yoga before, but I'm a stress-ball who ended up in tears so often that I quit going. Maybe I'll give it another shot. But maybe… tomorrow. I inhaled two chocolate bars for breakfast this morning that I’m now washing down with a large sugar free energy drink. I don't think I can push the gracious limits of yoga THAT far 😉 Congratulations on your certification! And double congratulations on your persistence and commitment to taking care of YOU. I think it's pretty fantastic 🙂

  5. “Yoga is where we learn to let go of what is no longer serving us and sometimes that process is emotional. ”

    Been ambivalent on whether to start yoga or not, but hearing this definitely helps! That is exactly the kind of thing I need to work on

  6. I think you are very mentally tough by the way your writing sounds, and I too have a bad back from years of doing wrong habits and exercises. Maybe your post inspires me to get back into yoga classes and correct my bad spine before it is too late!

  7. Yoga is a lifesaver. I have times when I’ll wander away, but when I come back, I always think, “Why did I ever stop doing this?” Last night when the power was out, I did 45 minutes of practice by candlelight. Time well spent!

  8. Hi Lisa, I used to do yoga but I was a bit conflicted with my Christian background. I love that it makes you super strong and flexible, it reminds me of when I did gymnastics as a child.
    Do you find that it has had any influence on you spiritually, or what you might believe?

    I recently discovered Rebounding, and I have to say that I absolutely adore it! I feel like a kid again, my body is becoming supple, toned, and strong with very little effort. It’s very detoxifying, and tons of fun! Have you tried it? It is very low impact.
    I find it has improved my mood ten fold (that, and cutting out gluten – I never knew how badly it effected me until I tried the elimination diet).
    Would love to hear your thoughts, thank you!
    Hannah

    • Hi Hannah! In my opinion, yoga can be practiced with our without spiritual elements. For me, the spiritual elements have to do with learning self-acceptance and a deeper connection with myself, my community and the world. That doesn’t seem to be in conflict with any religious teachings that I know of. Yoga doesn’t ask you to believe in anything, or buy into anything, it’s just about learning to access that moment of stillness within each of us. Some classes might include the chanting of Om or other things – if those make you feel uncomfortable, there are plenty of classes that offer a more “Americanized” experience. I hope that helps! (But I’m happy you like rebounding – I’ve not tried it. And YES! Diet is incredibly important.)

  9. Hey Lisa! You’re such an inspirational person. Today I was off sick , so I decided to watch Mrs doubtfire which really did make my day! Usually I search up actors/actresses whenever I watch movies and when I came across your profile, I was absolutely stunned by the words that many of us can relate to. I feel like I can just look at this post as many times as I like. Your story is a huge inspiration and I hope to do some yoga. thank you! X

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