Many of us, when we think about practicing yoga, immediately feel a sense of intimidation. Thoughts of arm balances, complex postures, and smooth transitions create an unrealistic picture in our mind of the practice. I know this from my own experience. I avoided yoga for many years based on an irrational belief that it was not for me. It was out of my league; I couldn’t practice yoga. I hadn’t even really tried! I held a preconceived, wildly incorrect image of the practice in my rigid mind. I thought yoga was for someone perfectly toned, flexible, relaxed, and Zen. For heaven’s sake, I could hardly put one foot in front of the other and walk most days, let alone attempt to gracefully contort my body into a standing bow pose. Nope. Not for me. So, I avoided it.
I began practicing yoga while going through my divorce. A dear friend of mine dragged me to a couple Vinyasa classes and I enjoyed it, mostly because we spent time together and always stopped for Panera Bread on the way home. But it hadn’t quite spoken to my soul yet. It hadn’t clicked. The moment it did, the class turned my perception upside down, and will be forever etched in my memory. I ventured to a class on my own. I was tired, sad, and looking to spend a few hours doing something that would take my mind off missing my kids. It was a Yoga Sculpt class and, if you’re familiar with the format, you know it’s intense.
I wasn’t sure what to expect. The class was packed. I would guess 50-60 people in the studio with no more than two inches between mats. As people continued to flood into the room I started to panic. All these people, just walking around confident and smiling, knowing what they were doing! Where was I? We grounded into extended child’s pose and the instructor opened up about her journey with self-love, divorce, and single parenting. She reminded us not to worry about how our neighbor looked or what they did. This was our class. Being there, in that moment, was enough. It felt as though she spoke directly to me. I physically worked harder in that class than I ever worked before. But more importantly, my mind worked in overdrive. I believed I could finish the class. Sweat dripped from my body and my heart pounded. Out of breath, I just kept going. The energy was unlike any I ever experienced: sweaty high-fives, humidity, heat, but I felt support the most. I wept after that class.
It was the moment I knew yoga could change my life. Not just physically. We often focus solely on the physical benefits of our practice. How it changes our body. Outward for the world to see. There is a juncture in our practice where yoga transforms from means of physical exercise, to a form of meditation and mindfulness beyond the physical body that transcends off the mat. For me, it was when I realized the balance I created in my physical body also symbolized the balance I could take with me into my day-to-day life. It was no longer just a workout. It was a lifestyle.
You see, at that time in my life, I felt mediocre at everything. I felt mediocre at home as a mom, in my career to my employees, and with my friends. Truthfully, I was hurting with open wounds. I hadn’t quite figured out how to find the balance between my new reality, obligations, single-mom life, and truly caring for myself. I floated through life and experiences, often off-kilter and imbalanced.
But I was healing. Every time I came to my mat, I was reminded of the importance of taking care of myself. As a newly divorced young woman, I needed a healthy outlet. I needed a safe place to work through the guilt, pain, and emotions that I felt. Yoga became that outlet for me. Every class I attended, I walked out feeling stronger, empowered, lifted-up, enlightened, supported, and BALANCED. Slowly but surely, I began to implement the mantras or messages I received during class. For years, my intention for each class did not change: to create peace with my new reality and to be the best version of myself that I was capable of.
We see the biggest change in our lives when we realize everything we do in class is symbolic and meaningful. Every breath, every posture, and every mantra is not meant to stay within the studio walls or stagnant on the mat. It’s meant to provide you with a springboard of reminders, encouragement, and stability to take with you when you leave. When we truly embrace and listen to not only the message presented to us by the instructor guiding the class, but to our own inner being, we identify what we need beyond the four corners of our mat. When we move, one breath to one movement, we work through our stuck or stale thoughts trapped in our mind and body. We begin to take our practice with us off the mat and into our daily lives.
The real question is, how do we take the balance we practice on the mat with us into the world? In yoga, we mirror our poses on the right and left side. Although the physical sensation often feels different and even asymmetrical from our right to left sides, we CREATE balance in our physical body. We also place emphasis on the importance of honoring our body in rest and stretching as much as the hard work we put in. This creates an experience of moving meditation that takes us out of the crazy spiral in our minds and back to the present moment and space. If only for 60 minutes, we give back to ourselves so we can take care of the people and passions that mean the most to us.
If we do not create balance, we will not have balance. If we continue to neglect ourselves, we will always feel defeated. If we never rest, we will always be tired. If we always give, we will eventually burn out. We create balance between hard work and restoration. The very practice of yoga gives us an opportunity to counter the hustle and bustle of 21st century living with a mind and body experience that helps us focus on the present. The practice of yoga is ever-changing and evolving. It adapts and changes as we grow, but the message remains the same; find your center, honor and love yourself, practice, and most importantly, take your practice with you off the mat and into the world!
Cortney Franklin is the owner and founder of Bodhi Studios, LLC. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Science and a Master’s degree in Healthcare Administration. Cortney has spent the last 10 years building a career in the Financial Services Industry that she is also passionate about. She has two boys, Carter (10) and Collin (9). Cortney enjoys spending time at home with her kids, cooking, reading, politics, vacation and finding joy and laughter whenever possible.