After one really disheartening experience at a yoga studio in Cleveland and another rather enlightening experience at a yoga studio in Las Vegas, I was determined to find a studio and a practice that fit what I was looking for. What that specific thing was I was searching out remained to be named, but I firmly believed I would know it when I found it.
So it was that one year ago on the Saturday before Christmas, I found myself walking into The Studio Cleveland on the East Bank of the Flats. After putting together a list of all of the studios in the area, I decided to visit them one by one and The Studio was first on my agenda for no other reason than proximity. The class was Ashtanga Vinyasa, and while I had absolutely no idea what that entailed, the Saturday morning session fit my schedule so off I went.
Walking in blind was probably the best decision I could have made. Had I known that I was about to challenge my body in every conceivable way through one of the most physically demanding practices out there and that by the end of my first 90+ minute class I would be a puddle of sweat and goo on my mat and that my body would feel sore for a week afterwards, I can't say for sure I still would have gone. Fear and my comfort zone would possibly have trumped all desire to find the elusive je nais se quoi.
At this point in my journey, I had already lost a little over 50 pounds, but still weighed in at about 255. In my mind this made me the antithesis of any and all yoga practioners and, in fact, that was what turned me off to the first yoga studio I visited. While it was subtle, I couldn't help but feel as though the initial yoga teacher just didn't know what to do with me at my size. (Thankfully, Swami Ramananda at Ceasar's Palace in Vegas opened my eyes and helped me reevaluate and realize that inclusive yoga instructors do exist.)
So, naturally, I pulled the heavy glass doors of The Studio open with trepidation. But the woman who greeted me at the desk -- tall and lean, like a gazelle, her long dark hair a mess of tightly coiled curls -- was more welcoming and cheerful than I could have even anticipated, let alone hoped for.
This, ladies & gentleman, was Jessica.
After introducing herself, she showed me around. Pointed out the Thai massage rooms and artwork, all of which is for sale. I saw the main large studio, the showers and cubbies, and the smaller Ganesha room, so named because of the large image of the Hindu deity (he of the elephant head) hanging from the ceiling.
As she chatted away, asking about my previous experiences with yoga and telling me about the practice of Ashtanga, it slowly dawned on me that never once during this conversation did I ever feel like my weight was an issue. It was almost as if she somehow hadn't noticed. From the very first moment I walked in and slipped off my shoes at the front door, I felt as though I had found a place where I belonged. Everyone I've met at The Studio over the past year has been incredibly supportive of me and my journey: a few weeks ago, in the span of about two days, I had two different people I met through The Studio tell me they recommended my blog to people they know struggling. But I also know they would be equally supportive if I weighed the same as I did when we first met.
One of the things I love most about Ashtanga is that it's a set series: every class is the same poses in the same order. Depending on requests or the level of the people in a given class, Jessica will sometimes throw in other poses, like One Handed Tiger or Bow Pose. But she does them in such a way that we still fit in the traditional Ashtanga series and the benefit to this is that you are truly able to see progress.
This has never been more apparent to me than as I reflect back on the past year and how far I have come. Poses that were impossible in the beginning are now second nature. Remember when I couldn't do Plow without potentially suffocating thanks to my well-endowed bosom? These days not only are the darlins not a problem, but I can roll over far enough to get my toes on the floor behind me. Then there was the day I suddenly was on my head and these days I'm working on doing my headstands away from the wall. I've conquered Wheel enough that I can
Of course, despite the often persistent perception that this is a form of exercise or a way to burn calories, yoga is, first and foremost, a spiritual discipline. A moving meditation. What I love most about practicing is the non-physical changes that come as you journey through the series.
In my very first post for this blog, I explained the reasoning behind the blog's name and the significance of Baddha Konasana, or Butterfly pose. The transformation I've had in the past year is remarkable. To the point of there not being words. Not just in my practice, either, but personally, mentally, emotionally, all of it. And, of course, nothing speaks more to my self-discovery during this process than my 100 pound reward tattoo.
Hopefully my now-bony ass will thank me during Boat Pose.
Love from the ashes,